Section 144 Imposed Only to Stop Anti-CAA protests?

By Ashwin Tombat
16 February 2020 07:50 IST

On Tuesday, District Magistrate R Menaka imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) in North Goa, allegedly after an intelligence input regarding a possible terror threat. The order stays in effect for 60 days, till 10 April 2020.

Section 144 CrPC prohibits any gathering of five or more persons. Even a peaceful assembly of people with prior permission can be termed “unlawful”. Violation of Section 144 can be punished by up to three years in jail.

Despite the order, several large gatherings took place during the week.

A seminar called ‘Difficult Dialogues’ was held at the International Centre at Dona Paula. Several VVIPs attended, including Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, Mumbai High Court Justice Mahesh Sonak, Supreme Court advocates Pinky Anand and Vrinda Grover, and a number of high-profile academics from overseas. “Terrorist threat”, notwithstanding, it went ahead.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant inaugurated the Aqua Mega Fish Festival at the SAG Ground in Panaji on Thursday. Thousands of people visited the three-day event. The “terrorist threat” did not matter.

The Open Arts Festival opened at Nagoa, Bardez, on Wednesday. The four-day event was attended by dozens of artists, as well as hundreds of visitors. It went ahead despite the “terror threat”.

Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza was to arrive in Goa yesterday evening on a two-day visit. He will visit the Santa Monica Church and the Museum of Christian Art at Old Goa today. The visit has gone ahead, despite the “terror threat”.

Coming up soon are the Goa Carnival from 22 to 25 February, and the Shigmo festival from 10 to 16 March, which bring lakhs of people out on the roads.  But Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has reassured the public that “no government event, including the Carnival, will be disturbed due to the notification”.

Large gatherings are ideal places for terrorists to strike. The only terrorist attack that Goa has faced in recent memory was when Sanatan Sanstha members Malgonda Patil and Yogesh Naik were accidentally killed in a blast when they were transporting explosives on 16 October 2009 in Margao, to bomb the ‘Narkasur’ procession in the city. Police later defused two explosive devices in Sancoale. They were intended to explode during the Vasco ‘Narkasur’ procession.  

Is there actually a “terrorist threat” now?

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant doesn’t seem to think so. On Thursday, he told the media that people should not panic over Section 144. Mr Sawant said this was a “routine notification” based on the instruction of the police to keep the force alert. “It is issued every six months,” the CM said.

This means that the so-called “intelligence inputs” on which the notification is based are neither specific nor actionable. Very likely they are “routine”, as the CM says, and not real.

Then why impose Section 144 now?  

Is it because the Goa Alliance Against CAA-NRC-NPR has called for a public meeting to oppose the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) on Friday 21 February in Panaji? It was to be held yesterday, but permission was denied owing to the Portugal President’s visit. Soon after the new date was announced, Section 144 was imposed.

This same alliance organised a small interactive session with writer Prof Apoorvanand yesterday. It was to be held at the GTDC’s Vasco Residency. But the GTDC abruptly withdrew permission for the event just a day earlier, and the venue had to be hurriedly shifted to the St Andrew's Church Hall.   

Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all citizens of India the fundamental right “to assemble peaceably and without arms”. This includes the rights to hold meetings and take out processions.

A landmark Supreme Court judgment is about Baba Ramdev’s protest against corruption and black money in May 2011 at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi, which was violently invaded by police at midnight. The SC held that the protest was a peaceful ‘satyagraha’, and Section 144 CrPC was unlawfully imposed. It ruled that the decision to forcibly evict people sleeping at the maidan – taken either by the police independently or in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs – was an arbitrary abuse of power.

This Thursday, the Karnataka High Court held that the order issued by the Bengaluru Police Commissioner imposing Section 144 on 18 December 2019 to stop anti-CAA protests was illegal. It said that the commissioner’s order did not stand the test of judicial scrutiny laid down by the Supreme Court in 2018.

The state government had claimed that the Commissioner had received reports from 11 Deputy Commissioners that “anti-social elements” could create a riot during the protests. Chief Justice Abhay S Oka said the Supreme Court had laid down that the District Magistrate must conduct an inquiry and stipulate the material evidence and reasons or material particulars in the order while imposing section 144.

If, as Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has openly admitted, this is a “routine notification” to keep the police force alert that is issued every six months, the government should not hesitate to give permission for the anti-CAA public meeting to go ahead on Friday. All pro-CAA and anti-CAA meetings held in Goa have been completely peaceful so far. There is no reason to believe this one will be any different.

But if it refuses permission for the meeting, the real reason behind the imposition of Section 144 will become crystal clear.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

90% Goans (Hindus, Muslim & Christians) who are born outside Goa and inside India don’t have Birth Certificate who is born in 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950 and so on. There is no need for any new exercise. If new exercise then Corrupt Government Officials will have the last laugh and they will become the richest people in the whole world. Citizenship/Nationality to Goans in Goa should be given with the existing documents like Ration, Aadhar, Voting, PAN, Passport, etc.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 17 th February 2020 19:24


Sir , not going into the merits of your article. I would just like to point out two implications you have misstated / missed out on :

"Section 144 CrPC prohibits any gathering of five or more persons".

1. S. 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure makes no use of the word 'assembly' , nor has any direct connection with prohibiting the assembly of people . It is a provision conferring general powers on a magistrate to order person specified therein to do / abstain from doing something.

2. Please read the actual notification issued by the District magistrate, North Goa- Order No. 8/8/2020-MAG/L&O/(Vol. I)- 533 dated 10th February 2020.

It does not prohibit the assembly of persons at all. It orders only for the verification of identities of tenants/ visitors/ guests , by the places where they are residing.

That's all .

- Sterling Archer, Goa | 16 th February 2020 14:40


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