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The Supreme Court today dismissed a PIL seeking the quashing of FIRs registered under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code against thousands of persons for violations of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The three-Judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai dismissed the petition filed by former IPS Officer and Chairman of think-tank Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), Prof Dr Vikram Singh.
It was pointed out during the virtual hearing that over 75,000 FIRs have been registered under Section 188 IPC for violations of the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. The Court, however, questioned how the lockdown would be enforced without invoking the said provision.
The petitioner submitted that rule of law cannot be selective, while stating that the FIRs have been mainly registered against individuals who stepped out of their homes to withdraw money from ATMs, against migrants, and such.
Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure bars filing of such FIRs and it is these cases that will burden the criminal justice system, it was argued.
The Court, however, proceeded to dismiss the petition.
The petitioner had also urged the Apex Court to direct the Centre to advise states not to register any more such cases and to refrain from filing complaints for petty offences during the lockdown.
It was the petitioner's case that no FIR can be registered under Section 188 of the IPC by the police. The petition stated that,
"It is most humbly submitted that S. 188 of the IPC must be read with S. 195 of the CrPC, which mandates that only a Magistrate can take cognizance of an offence under Section 188 IPC, and that too on a complaint submitted by a public servant."
The petition also contended that the legal processes cannot be now misused by the Police when the Disaster Management Act has been invoked.
According to the think-tank's research, as many as 848 FIRs were filed under Section 188 in 50 Police Stations of Delhi alone. These FIRs were filed between the period of March 23 and April 13. The Uttar Pradesh government had also released the number of FIRs filed, which stands at 15,378 against 48,503 persons.
The petitioner had also submitted that such action by the police is in violation of the people's Fundamental Rights under Articles 14 and 21. Further, it goes against the order of the Supreme Court issuing certain directions for the decongestion of jails during this pandemic.
This would also lead to an undue burden on the police personnel who would have to work on the voluminous documentation and paperwork for these cases once registered. As stated in the petition,
"The FIRs are being incessantly filed for trivial offences, which will have to go through their own process, eventually burdening the police, jails and whole criminal justice system."
All the same, the petitioner had emphasised that he was not promoting violation of the lockdown in any manner, adding that the situation needs to be handled humanely. The petition said,
"That at a time when the Police is wielding immense powers, it is necessary for directions to be passed by this Hon’ble Court, so that they can be implemented at the national level, and judicial discipline is maintained."
The petition was filed through Advocate Virag Gupta and the petitioner was represented by Senior Counsel Gopal Sankarnarayanan.