To prevent the spread of coronavirus, Kerala has taken an extreme step and invoked Section 144 of the CrPC to prevent public gatherings and congregations. This step has raised eyebrows as it raises questions as to the necessity of imposing this draconian law. No other state or Union territory in the country has invoked this law to fight the pandemic.
Sections 151 and 149 are enough to prevent unlawful gatherings and give powers to the police to arrest a person to prevent a cognisable offence. Section 151 empowers a police officer to arrest a member of the unlawful gathering without orders from a magistrate or a warrant. No person arrested shall be detained in custody for a period exceeding twenty-four hours from the time of his arrest unless his further detention is required. Section 149 of the CrPC also gives enough powers for a civil police officer to interpose for the purpose of preventing, and shall, to the best of his ability, prevent the commission of any cognisable offence.
Section 144 of the CrPC, however, is a draconian law which gives the power to issue orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. Any person who violates the prohibitory order shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
A senior constitutional expert in Kerala High Court said, “All these sections are draconian as there are chances for misusing the provisions. However, when one compares them, Section 144 is more severe as it prevents the free movement of people. There is no need to invoke CrPC 144 to prevent a pandemic, which is unprecedented,” he said.
A senior IPS officer said that the decision to give powers to district collectors to issue prohibitory order is more of a political decision. The state government can effectively control agitations against the government by political parties over a host of issues, including gold smuggling and Life Mission scam, through prohibitory orders. Since the penal charges are grave for violating prohibitory orders, the government can easily tackle public agitations, he said.