Karnataka HC to look into legality of Section 144 order, directs state to consider applications for permission to protest

Karnataka HC to look into legality of Section 144 order, directs state to consider applications for permission to protest
Protests in Bangalore

The Karnataka High Court today observed that it would look into the legality of the order passed by the state government under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), in the wake of state-wide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Before the High Court, the state government today agreed to allow fresh applications for permission to conduct protests. The police would then consider these applications and decide them within 3-4 days, Advocate General for Karnataka Prabhuling Navadgi submitted before Court today.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay S Oka was hearing petitions filed by Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Rajeev Gowda, Member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, Sowmya Reddy, and others. The petitioners have prayed for quashing of the prohibitory orders passed under Section 144 CrPC by the state government on December 18. The prohibitory order was passed in the wake of protests across the state against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Advocate General Navadgi responded to the queries posed by the Court earlier today. As regards the claim made in one petition that school students were being detained for protesting, the AG assured the Court that no such students were detained. The AG went on to say,

“We are not really against protestors. We are against the violence against public property and public safety. Certain other elements might infiltrate the protest.”

He further informed the Court that the order under Section 144 was issued after the Commissioner of Police went through intelligence reports.

In response, Justice Oka said,

“But you can always regulate it. We are concerned with the protection of liberties under the Constitution.”

Responding to Navadgi’s submission that Section 144 is a preventive measure, Justice Oka said,

“This preventive measure curtails the rights of people.”

The Chief Justice then proceeded to ask the AG if fresh applications for permission to protest would be considered. The AG responded in the affirmative, saying that fresh applications may be submitted, and that the police would decide the same within “3-4 days”.

On the basis of this submission, the Court directed the state to to consider fresh applications made for permission to protest in accordance with law. The same are to be decided within three days of application.

The Court made it clear that it was not looking into the nature of the protest, but was limiting its scrutiny to the legality of the Section 144 order. It prima facie found that the order does not contain formation of opinion, as required under Section 144(1) CrPC.

Addressing concerns that the prohibitory order - which expires tomorrow - may be extended, the Court stated that if such an order was passed, fresh application of mind and opinion would be required.

Earlier today, Chief Justice Abhay S Oka posed a volley of questions to Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, appearing for the state government.

Taking note of the fact that permissions were initially granted to protestors before the prohibitory orders were passed, Justice Oka asked,

“When permission for carrying out protests was given to certain organisations, then how can it be cancelled overnight?

Can a sweeping order under Section 144 cancel an already granted permission?”

During this morning’s hearing, AG Navadgi said that he needed time to take instructions from the government. The Court allowed the same, and had posted the matter for 4 PM.

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