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Reasonable restriction to Right of free speech and expression

Posted in CONSTITUTION, DEMOCRACY, FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, GOVERNANCE by NNLRJ INDIA on February 24, 2012
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Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt … vs Home Secretary And Ors. on 23 February, 2012 – SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CRL.) NO. 122 OF 2011

1. At the very outset, I would prefer to examine the principles of law that can render assistance in weighing the merit or otherwise of the contentious disputations asserted before the Court by the parties in the present suo moto petition. Besides restating the law governing Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and the parallel restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3) respectively, I would also gauge the dimensions of legal provisions in relation to the exercise of jurisdiction by the empowered officer in passing an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short `Cr.P.C.’).

2. It appears justified here to mention the First Amendment to the United States (US) Constitution, a bellwether in the pursuit of expanding the horizon of civil liberties. This Amendment provides for the freedom of speech of press in the American Bill of Rights. This Amendment added new dimensions to this right to freedom and purportedly, without any limitations. The expressions used in wording the Amendment have a wide magnitude and are capable of liberal construction. It reads as under :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

3. The effect of use of these expressions, in particular, was that the freedom of speech of press was considered absolute and free from any restrictions whatsoever. Shortly thereafter, as a result of widening of the power of judicial review, the US Supreme Court preferred to test each case on the touchstone of the rule of `clear- and-present-danger’. However, application of this rule was unable to withstand the pace of development of law and, therefore, through its judicial pronouncements, the US Supreme Court applied the doctrine of `balancing of interests’. The cases relating to speech did not simply involve the rights of the offending speaker but typically they presented a clash of several rights or a conflict between individual rights and necessary functions of the Government. Justice Frankfurter often applied the above-mentioned Balancing Formula and concluded that “while the court has emphasized the importance of `free speech’, it has recognized that free speech is not in itself a touchstone. The Constitution is not unmindful of other important interests, such as public order, if free expression of ideas is not found to be the overbalancing considerations.

4. The `balancing of interests’ approach is basically derived from Roscoe Pound‘s theories of social engineering. Pound had insisted that his structure of public, social and individual interests are all, in fact, individual interests looked at from different points of view for the purpose of clarity. Therefore, in order to make the system work properly, it is essential that when interests are balanced, all claims must be translated into the same level and carefully labelled. Thus, a social interest may not be balanced against individual interest, but only against another social interest. The author points out that throughout the heyday of the clear-and-present-danger and preferred position doctrines, the language of balancing, weighing or accommodating interests was employed as an integral part of the libertarian position. [Freedom of Speech: The Supreme Court and Judicial Review, by Martin Shapiro, 1966]

5. Even in the United States there is a recurring debate in modern First Amendment Jurisprudence as to whether First Amendment rights are `absolute’ in the sense that the Government may not abridge them at all or whether the First Amendment requires the `balancing of competing interests’ in the sense that free speech values and the Government’s competing justification must be isolated and weighted in each case. Although the First Amendment to the American Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, press or assembly, it has long been established that those freedoms themselves are dependent upon the power of the constitutional Government to survive. If it is to survive, it must have power to protect itself against unlawful conduct and under some circumstances against incitements to commit unlawful acts. Freedom of speech, thus, does not comprehend the right to speak on any subject at any time. In the case of Schenck v. United States [63 L ed 1173], the Court held :

The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that have all the effect of force….the question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

[Constitution of India, (2nd Edn.), Volume 1 by Dr. L.M. Singhvi]

6. In contradistinction to the above approach of the US Supreme Court, the Indian Constitution spells out the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). It also provides the right to assemble peacefully and without arms to every citizen of the country under Article 19(1)(b). However, these rights are not free from any restrictions and are not absolute in their terms and application. Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively, control the freedoms available to a citizen. Article 19(2) empowers the State to impose reasonable restrictions on exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the factors stated in the said clause. Similarly, Article 19(3) enables the State to make any law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred, again in the interest of the factors stated therein.

7. In face of this constitutional mandate, the American doctrine adumbrated in Schenck’s case (supra) cannot be imported and applied. Under our Constitution, this right is not an absolute right but is subject to the above-noticed restrictions. Thus, the position under our Constitution is different.

 8. In `Constitutional Law of India’ by H.M. Seervai (Fourth Edn.), Vol.1, the author has noticed that the provisions of the two Constitutions as to freedom of speech and expression are essentially different. The difference being accentuated by the provisions of the Indian Constitution for preventive detention which have no counterpart in the US Constitution. Reasonable restriction contemplated under the Indian Constitution brings the matter in the domain of the court as the question of reasonableness is a question primarily for the Court to decide. {Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra [(1961) 3 SCR 423]}.

9. The fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution itself being made subject to reasonable restrictions, the laws so enacted to specify certain restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression have to be construed meaningfully and with the constitutional object in mind. For instance, the right to freedom of speech and expression is not violated by a law which requires that name of the printer and publisher and the place of printing and publication should be printed legibly on every book or paper.

10. Thus, there is a marked distinction in the language of law, its possible interpretation and application under the Indian and the US laws. It is significant to note that the freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for proper functioning of the democratic process. The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first condition of liberty. It occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of liberties, giving succour and protection to all other liberties. It has been truly said that it is the mother of all other liberties. Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, political and economic matters. It has been described as a ;basic human right ;a natural right; and the like. With the development of law in India, the right to freedom of speech and expression has taken within its ambit the right to receive information as well as the right of press.

11. In order to effectively consider the rival contentions raised and in the backdrop of the factual matrix, it will be of some concern for this Court to examine the constitutional scheme and the historical background of the relevant Articles relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression in India. The framers of our Constitution, in unambiguous terms, granted the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. This gave to the citizens of this country a very valuable right, which is the essence of any democratic system. There could be no expression without these rights. Liberty of thought enables liberty of expression. Belief occupies a place higher than thought and expression. Belief of people rests on liberty of thought and expression. Placed as the three angles of a triangle, thought and expression would occupy the two corner angles on the baseline while belief would have to be placed at the upper angle. Attainment of the preambled liberties is eternally connected to the liberty of expression. (Ref. Preamble, The Spirit and Backbone of the Constitution of India, by Justice R.C. Lahoti). These valuable fundamental rights are subject to restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively. Article 19(1) was subjected to just one amendment, by the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1979, vide which Article 19(1)(f) was repealed. Since the Parliament felt the need of amending Article 19(2) of the Constitution, it was substituted by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 with retrospective effect. Article 19(2) was subjected to another amendment and vide the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, the expression "sovereignty and integrity of India was added. The pre-amendment Article had empowered the State to make laws imposing reasonable restrictions in exercise of the rights conferred under Article 19(1)(a) in the interest of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence. To introduce a more definite dimension with regard to the sovereignty and integrity of India, this Amendment was made. It provided the right spectrum in relation to which the State could enact a law to place reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression.

12. This shows that the State has a duty to protect itself against certain unlawful actions and, therefore, may enact laws which would ensure such protection. The right that springs from Article 19(1)(a) is not absolute and unchecked. There cannot be any liberty absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation so as to confer a right wholly free from any restraint. Had there been no restraint, the rights and freedoms may become synonymous with anarchy and disorder. {Ref.: State of West Bengal Vs. Subodh Gopal Bose [AIR 1954 SC 92]}.

13. I consider it appropriate to examine the term `liberty’, which is subject to reasonable restrictions, with reference to the other constitutional rights. Article 21 is the foundation of the constitutional scheme. It grants to every person the right to life and personal liberty. This Article prescribes a negative mandate that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The procedure established by law for deprivation of rights conferred by this Article must be fair, just and reasonable. The rules of justice and fair play require that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribed that procedure and, consequently, the action taken thereunder.

14. Any action taken by a public authority which is entrusted with the statutory power has, therefore, to be tested by the application of two standards – first, the action must be within the scope of the authority conferred by law and, second, it must be reasonable. If any action, within the scope of the authority conferred by law is found to be unreasonable, it means that the procedure established under which that action is taken is itself unreasonable. The concept of `procedure established by law’ changed its character after the judgment of this Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. UOI [AIR 1978 SC 597], where this Court took the view as under : "The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically is an essential element of equality or non arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasonableness in order to be right and just and fair and not arbitrary fanciful or oppressive otherwise it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.This was also noted in the case of Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544 where this Court took the following view:

Procedure established by law are words of deep meaning for all lovers of liberty and judicial sentinels.

15. What emerges from the above principles, which has also been followed in a catena of judgments of this Court, is that the law itself has to be reasonable and furthermore, the action under that law has to be in accordance with the law so established. Non-observance of either of this can vitiate the action, but if the former is invalid, the latter cannot withstand.

16. Article 13 is a protective provision and an index of the importance and preference that the framers of the Constitution gave to Part III. In terms of Article 13(1), the laws in force before the commencement of the Constitution, in so far as they were inconsistent with the provisions of that Part were, to the extent of such inconsistency, void. It also fettered the right of the State in making laws. The State is not to make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part and if such law is made then to the extent of conflict, it would be void. In other words, except for the limitations stated in the Articles contained in Part III itself and Article 13(4) of the Constitution, this Article is the 13 reservoir of the fundamental protections available to any person/citizen.

17. While these are the guaranteed fundamental rights, Article 38, under the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution, places a constitutional obligation upon the State to strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social, economic and political – shall inform all the institutions of the national life. Article 37 makes the Directive Principles of State Policy fundamental in governance of the country and provides that it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.

18. With the development of law, even certain matters covered under this Part relating to Directive Principles have been uplifted to the status of fundamental rights, for instance, the right to education. Though this right forms part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, compulsory and primary education has been treated as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by the courts, which consequently led to the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010.

 19. Article 51A deals with the fundamental duties of the citizens. It, inter alia, postulates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution, to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.

20. Thus, a common thread runs through Parts III, IV and IVA of the Constitution of India. One Part enumerates the fundamental rights, the second declares the fundamental principles of governance and the third lays down the fundamental duties of the citizens. While interpreting any of these provisions, it shall always be advisable to examine the scope and impact of such interpretation on all the three constitutional aspects emerging from these parts. It is necessary to be clear about the meaning of the word "fundamental as used in the expression ;fundamental in the governance of the State to describe the directive principles which have not legally been made enforceable. Thus, the word "fundamental has been used in two different senses under our Constitution. The essential character of the fundamental rights is secured by limiting the legislative power and by providing that any transgression of the limitation would render the offending law pretendo void. The word fundamental in Article 37 also means basic or essential, but it is used in the normative sense of setting, before the State, goals which it should try to achieve. As already noticed, the significance of the fundamental principles stated in the directive principles has attained greater significance through judicial pronouncements.

21. As difficult as it is to anticipate the right to any freedom or liberty without any reasonable restriction, equally difficult it is to imagine the existence of a right not coupled with a duty. The duty may be a direct or indirect consequence of a fair assertion of the right. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights, still duties and restrictions are inherent thereunder. These rights are basic in nature and are recognized and guaranteed as natural rights, inherent in the status of a citizen of a free country, but are not absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation. Each one of these rights is to be controlled, curtailed and regulated, to a certain extent, by laws made by the Parliament or the State Legislature. In spite of there being a general presumption in favour of the constitutionality of a legislation under challenge alleging violation of the right to freedom guaranteed by clause (1) of Article 19 of the Constitution, on a prima facie case of such violation being made out, the onus shifts upon the State to show that the legislation comes within the permissible restrictions set out in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 and that the particular restriction is reasonable. It is for the State to place on record appropriate material justifying the restriction and its reasonability. Reasonability of restriction is a matter which squarely falls within the power of judicial review of the Courts. Such limitations, therefore, indicate two purposes; one that the freedom is not absolute and is subject to regulatory measures and the second that there is also a limitation on the power of the legislature to restrict these freedoms. The legislature has to exercise these powers within the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

22. Further, there is a direct and not merely implied responsibility upon the Government to function openly and in public interest. The Right to Information itself emerges from the right to freedom of speech and expression. Unlike an individual, the State owns a multi-dimensional responsibility. It has to maintain and ensure security of the State as well as the social and public order. It has to give utmost regard to the right to freedom of speech and expression which a citizen or a group of citizens may assert. The State also has a duty to provide security and protection to the persons who wish to attend such assembly at the invitation of the person who is exercising his right to freedom of speech or otherwise. In the case of S. Rangarajan v. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574], this Court noticed as under : The problem of defining the area of freedom of expression when it appears to conflict with the various social interests enumerated under Article 19(2) may briefly be touched upon here. There does indeed have to be a compromise between the interest of freedom of expression and special interests. But we cannot simply balance the two interests as if they are of equal weight. Our commitment of freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have proximate and direct nexus with the expression. The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a "spark in a power keg

23. Where the Court applies the test of `proximate and direct nexus with the expression’, the Court also has to keep in mind that the restriction should be founded on the principle of least invasiveness i.e. the restriction should be imposed in a manner and to the extent which is unavoidable in a given situation. The Court would also take into consideration whether the anticipated event would or would not be intrinsically dangerous to public interest.

24. Now, I would examine the various tests that have been applied over the period of time to examine the validity and/or reasonability of the restrictions imposed upon the rights.

Upon the Rights Enshrined in the Constitution

 25. No person can be divested of his fundamental rights. They are incapable of being taken away or abridged. All that the State can do, by exercise of its legislative power, is to regulate these rights by imposition of reasonable restrictions on them. Upon an analysis of the law, the following tests emerge:-

a) The restriction can be imposed only by or under the authority of law. It cannot be imposed by exercise of executive power without any law to back it up.

b) Each restriction must be reasonable.

c) A restriction must be related to the purpose mentioned in Article 19(2).

 26. The questions before the Court, thus, are whether the restriction imposed was reasonable and whether the purported purpose of the same squarely fell within the relevant clauses discussed above. The legislative determination of what restriction to impose on a freedom is final and conclusive, as it is not open to judicial review. The judgments of this Court have been consistent in taking the view that it is difficult to define or explain the word "reasonable" with any precision. It will always be dependent on the facts of a given case with reference to the law which has been enacted to create a restriction on the right. It is neither possible nor advisable to state any abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness as applicable uniformly to all cases. This Court in the case of State of Madras v. V.G. Row [AIR 1952 SC 196] held :- "It is important in this context to bear in mind that the test of reasonableness, whereever prescribed, should be applied to each individual statute impugned, and no abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness, can be laid down as applicable to all cases.

27. For adjudging the reasonableness of a restriction, factors such as the duration and extent of the restrictions, the circumstances under which and the manner in which that imposition has been authorized, the nature of the right infringed, the underlining purpose of the restrictions imposed, the extent and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at the time, amongst others, enter into the judicial verdict. [See: ChintamanraoAnr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1951 SC 118)].

 28. The courts must bear a clear distinction in mind with regard to `restriction’ and `prohibition’. They are expressions which cannot be used inter-changeably as they have different connotations and consequences in law. Wherever a `prohibition’ is imposed, besides satisfying all the tests of a reasonable `restriction’, it must also satisfy the requirement that any lesser alternative would be inadequate. Furthermore, whether a restriction, in effect, amounts to a total prohibition or not, is a question of fact which has to be determined with regard to facts and circumstances of each case. This Court in the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and Others [(2005) 8 SCC 534] held as under:- "75. Three propositions are well settled: (i) ‘restriction’ includes cases of ‘prohibition'; (ii) the standard for judging reasonability of restriction or restriction amounting to prohibition remains the same, excepting that a total prohibition must also satisfy the test that a lesser alternative would be inadequate; and (iii) whether a restriction in effect amounts to a total prohibition is a question of fact which shall have to be determined with regard to the facts and circumstances of each case, the ambit of the right and the effect of the restriction upon the exercise of that right…..

29. The obvious result of the above discussion is that a restriction imposed in any form has to be reasonable and to that extent, it must stand the scrutiny of judicial review. It cannot be arbitrary or excessive. It must possess a direct and proximate nexus with the object sought to be achieved. Whenever and wherever any restriction is imposed upon the right to freedom of speech and expression, it must be within the framework of the prescribed law, as subscribed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

 30. As already noticed, rights, restrictions and duties co-exist. As, on the one hand, it is necessary to maintain and preserve the freedom of speech and expression in a democracy, there, on the other, it is also necessary to place reins on this freedom for the maintenance of social order. The term `social order’ has a very wide ambit. It includes `law and order’, `public order’ as well as `the security of the State’. The security of the State is the core subject and public order as well as law and order follow the same. In the case of Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras [1950 SCR 594], this Court took the view that local breaches of public order were no grounds for restricting the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. This led to the Constitutional (First Amendment) Act, 1951 and consequently, this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar [AIR 1966 SC 740] stated that an activity which affects `law and order’ may not necessarily affect `public order’ and an activity which might be prejudicial to `public order’ may not necessarily affect `security of the State’. Absence of `public order’ is an aggravated form of disturbance of public peace which affects the general current of public life. Any act which merely affects the security of others may not constitute a breach of `public order’.

31. The expression `in the interest of’ has given a wide amplitude to the permissible law which can be enacted to impose reasonable restrictions on the rights guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

 32. There has to be a balance and proportionality between the right and restriction on the one hand, and the right and duty, on the other. It will create an imbalance, if undue or disproportionate emphasis is placed upon the right of a citizen without considering the significance of the duty. The true source of right is duty. When the courts are called upon to examine the reasonableness of a legislative restriction on exercise of a freedom, the fundamental duties enunciated under Article 51A are of relevant consideration. Article 51A requires an individual to abide by the law, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence. It also requires the individual to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country. All these duties are not insignificant. Part IV of the Constitution relates to the Directive Principles of the State Policy. Article 38 was introduced in the Constitution as an obligation upon the State to maintain social order for promotion of welfare of the people. By the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, Article 51A was added to comprehensively state the fundamental duties of the citizens to compliment the obligations of the State. Thus, all these duties are of constitutional significance. It is obvious that the Parliament realized the need for inserting the fundamental duties as a part of the Indian Constitution and required every citizen of India to adhere to those duties. Thus, it will be difficult for any Court to exclude from its consideration any of the above-mentioned Articles of the Constitution while examining the validity or otherwise of any restriction relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression available to a citizen under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The restriction placed on a fundamental right would have to be examined with reference to the concept of fundamental duties and non-interference with liberty of others. Therefore, a restriction on the right to assemble and raise protest has also to be examined on similar parameters and values. In other words, when you assert your right, you must respect the freedom of others. Besides imposition of a restriction by the State, the non-interference with liberties of others is an essential condition for assertion of the right to freedom of speech and expression. In the case of Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India [(1996) 5 SCC 216], this Court held:

If maintenance of democracy is the foundation for free speech, society equally is entitled to regulate freedom of speech or expression by democratic action. The reason is obvious, viz., that society accepts free speech and expression and also puts limits on the right of the majority. Interest of the people involved in the acts of expression should be looked at not only from the perspective of the speaker but also the place at which he speaks, the scenario, the audience, the reaction of the publication, the purpose of the speech and the place and the forum in which the citizen exercises his freedom of speech and expression. The State has legitimate interest, therefore, to regulate the freedom of speech and expression which liberty represents the limits of the duty of restraint on speech or expression not to utter defamatory or libellous speech or expression. There is a correlative duty not to interfere with the liberty of others. Each is entitled to dignity of person and of reputation. Nobody has a right to denigrate others’ right to person or reputation. Therefore, freedom of speech and expression is tolerated so long as it is not malicious or libellous, so that all attempts to foster and ensure orderly and peaceful public discussion or public good should result from free speech in the market-place. If such speech or expression was untrue and so reckless as to its truth, the speaker or the author does not get protection of the constitutional right.

33. Every right has a corresponding duty. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights and duties, restrictions are inherent thereunder. Reasonable regulations have been found to be contained in the provisions of Part III of the Constitution of India, apart from clauses (2) to (4) and (6) of Article 19 of the Constitution {See Union of India v. Naveen Jindal and Anr. [(2004) 2 SCC 510]}.

34. As I have already discussed, the restriction must be provided by law in a manner somewhat distinct to the term `due process of law’ as contained in Article 21 of the Constitution. If the orders passed by the Executive are backed by a valid and effective law, the restriction imposed thereby is likely to withstand the test of reasonableness, which requires it to be free of arbitrariness, to have a direct nexus to the object and to be proportionate to the right restricted as well as the requirement of the society, for example, an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. This order is passed on the strength of a valid law enacted by the Parliament. The order is passed by an executive authority declaring that at a given place or area, more than five persons cannot assemble and hold a public meeting. There is a complete channel provided for examining the correctness or otherwise of such an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. and, therefore, it has been held by this Court in a catena of decisions that such order falls within the framework of reasonable restriction.

35. The distinction between `public order’ and `law and order’ is a fine one, but nevertheless clear. A restriction imposed with `law and order’ in mind would be least intruding into the guaranteed freedom while `public order’ may qualify for a greater degree of restriction since public order is a matter of even greater social concern. Out of all expressions used in this regard, as discussed in the earlier part of this judgment, `security of the state’ is the paramount and the State can impose restrictions upon the freedom, which may comparatively be more stringent than those imposed in relation to maintenance of `public order’ and `law and order’. However stringent may these restrictions be, they must stand the test of `reasonability’. The State would have to satisfy the Court that the imposition of such restrictions is not only in the interest of the security of the State but is also within the framework of Articles 19(2) and 19(3) of the Constitution.

36. It is keeping this distinction in mind, the Legislature, under Section 144 Cr.P.C., has empowered the District Magistrate, Sub- Divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate, specially empowered in this behalf, to direct any person to abstain from doing a certain act or to take action as directed, where sufficient ground for proceeding under this Section exists and immediate prevention and/or speedy remedy is desirable. By virtue of Section 144A Cr.P.C., which itself was introduced by Act 25 of 2005, the District Magistrate has been empowered to pass an order prohibiting, in any area within the local limits of his jurisdiction, the carrying of arms in any procession or the organizing or holding of any mass drill or mass training with arms in any public place, where it is necessary for him to do so for the preservation of public peace, public safety or maintenance of the public order. Section 144 Cr.P.C, therefore, empowers an executive authority, backed by these provisions, to impose reasonable restrictions vis-`-vis the fundamental rights. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. provide for a complete mechanism to be followed by the Magistrate concerned and also specify the limitation of time till when such an order may remain in force. It also prescribes the circumstances that are required to be taken into consideration by the said authority while passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

37. In Babu Lal Parate (supra) where this Court was concerned with the contention raised on behalf of the union of workers that the order passed in anticipation by the Magistrate under Section 144 Cr.P.C. was an encroachment on their rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b), it was held that the provisions of the Section, which commit the power in this regard to a Magistrate belonging to any of the classes referred to therein cannot be regarded as unreasonable. While examining the law in force in the United States, the Court further held that an anticipatory action of the kind permissible under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is not impermissible within the ambit of clauses (2) and (3) of Article 19. Public order has to be maintained at all times, particularly prior to any event and, therefore, it is competent for the legislature to pass a law permitting the appropriate authority to take anticipatory action or to place anticipatory restrictions upon particular kind of acts in an emergency for the purpose of maintaining public order.

38. In the case of Madhu Limaye v. Sub Divisional Magistrate and Ors. [AIR 1971 SC 2481], a Constitution Bench of this Court took the following view:

 The procedure to be followed is next stated. Under Sub-section (2) if time does not permit or the order cannot be served, it can be made ex parte. Under Sub-section (3) the order may be directed to a particular individual or to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place. Under sub-section (4) the Magistrate may either suo motu or on an application by an aggrieved person, rescind or alter the order whether his own or by a Magistrate subordinate to him or made by his predecessor in Office. Under Sub-section (5) where the magistrate is moved by a person aggrieved he must hear him so that he may show cause against the order and if the Magistrate rejects wholly or in part the application, he must record his reasons in writing. This sub-section is mandatory. An order by the Magistrate does not remain in force after two months from the making thereof but the State Government may, however, extend the period by a notification in the Gazette but, only in cases of danger to human life, health or safety or where there is a likelihood of a riot or an affray. But the second portion of the sub-section was declared violative of Article 19 in State of Bihar v. K.K. Misra [1969] S.C.R. 337. It may be pointed out here that disobedience of an order lawfully promulgated is made an offence by Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, if such disobedience causes obstruction, annoyance or injury to persons lawfully employed. It is punishable with simple imprisonment for one month or fine of Rs. 200 or both.

25. The gist of action under Section 144 is the urgency of the situation, its efficacy in the likelihood of being able to prevent some harmful occurrences. As it is possible to act absolutely and even ex parte it is obvious that the emergency must be sudden and the consequences sufficiently grave. Without it the exercise of power would have no justification. It is not an ordinary power flowing from administration but a power used in a judicial manner and which can stand further judicial scrutiny in the need for the exercise of the power, in its efficacy and in the extent of its application. There is no general proposition that an order under Section 144, Criminal Procedure Code cannot be passed without taking evidence : see Mst. Jagrupa Kumari v. Chotay Narain Singh (1936) 37 Cri.L.J. 95 (Pat) which in our opinion is correct in laying down this proposition. These fundamental facts emerge from the way the occasions for the exercise of the power are mentioned. Disturbances of public tranquility, riots and affray lead to subversion of public order unless they are prevented in time. Nuisances dangerous to human life, health or safety have no doubt to be abated and prevented. We are, however, not concerned with this part of the section and the validity of this part need not be decided here. In so far as the other parts of the section are concerned the key-note of the power is to free society from menace of serious disturbances of a grave character. The section is directed against those who attempt to prevent the exercise of legal rights by others or imperil the public safety and health. If that be so the matter must fall within the restrictions which the Constitution itself visualises as permissible in the interest of public order, or in the interest of the general public. We may say, however, that annoyance must assume sufficiently grave proportions to bring the matter within interests of public order.

 26. The criticism, however, is that the section suffers from over broadness and the words of the section are wide enough to give an absolute power which may be exercised in an unjustifiable case and then there would be no remedy except to ask the Magistrate to cancel the order which he may not do. Revision against his determination to the High Court may prove illusory because before the High Court can intervene the mischief will be done. Therefore, it is submitted that an inquiry should precede the making of the order. In other words, the burden should not be placed upon the person affected to clear his position. Further the order may be so general as to affect not only a particular party but persons who are innocent, as for example when there is an order banning meetings, processions, playing of music etc.

27. The effect of the order being in the interest of public order and the interests of the general public, occasions may arise when it is not possible to distinguish between those whose conduct must be controlled and those whose conduct is clear. As was pointed out in Babulal Parate case where two rival trade unions clashed and it was difficult to say whether a person belonged to one of the unions or to the general public, an order restricting the activities of the general public in the particular area was justified.

28. …A general order may be necessary when the number of persons is so large that distinction between them and the general public cannot be made without the risks mentioned in the section. A general order is thus justified but if the action is too general the order may be questioned by appropriate remedies for which there is ample provision in the law. In the case of Himat Lal K. Shah v. Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad & Anr. [(1973) 1 SCC 227], again a Constitution Bench of this Court, while dealing with a situation where a person seeking permission to hold a public meeting was denied the same on the ground that under another similar permission, certain elements had indulged in rioting and caused mischief to private and public properties, held Rule 7 framed under the Bombay Police Act, 1951 as being arbitrary and observed as under :.It is not surprising that the Constitution makers conferred a fundamental right on all citizens ‘to assemble peaceably and without arms’. While prior to the coming into force of the Constitution the right to assemble could have been abridged or taken away by law, now that cannot be done except by imposing reasonable restrictions within Article 19(3). But it is urged that the right to assemble does not mean that that right can be exercised at any and every place. This Court held in Railway Board v. Narinjan Singh (1969) 3 SCR 548; 554 : (1969)1 SCC 502 that there is no fundamental right for any one to hold meetings in government premises. It was observed: `The fact that the citizens of this country have freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peaceably and freedom to form associations or unions does not mean that they can exercise those freedoms in whatever place they please’.

 40. Section 144 Cr.P.C. is intended to serve public purpose and protect public order. This power vested in the executive is to be invoked after the satisfaction of the authority that there is need for immediate prevention or that speedy remedy is desirable and directions as contemplated are necessary to protect the interest of others or to prevent danger to human life, health or safety or disturbance of public tranquility or a riot or an affray. These features must co-exist at a given point of time in order to enable the authority concerned to pass appropriate orders. The expression `law and order’ is a comprehensive expression which may include not merely `public order’ but also matters such as `public peace’, `public tranquility’ and `orderliness’ in a locality or a local area and perhaps some other matters of public concern too. `Public order’ is something distinct from order or orderliness in a local area. Public order, if disturbed, must lead to public disorder whereas every breach of peace may not always lead to public disorder. This concept came to be illustratively explained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia (supra) wherein it was held that when two drunkards quarrel and fight, there is `disorder’ but not `public disorder’. They can be dealt with under the powers to maintain `law and order’ but cannot be detained on the ground that they were disturbing `public order’. However, where the two persons fighting were of rival communities and one of them tried to raise communal passions, the problem is still one of `law and order’ but it raises the apprehension of public disorder. The main distinction is that where it affects the community or public at large, it will be an issue relatable to `public order’. Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowers passing of such order in the interest of public order equitable to public safety and tranquility. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowering the authorities to pass orders to tend to or to prevent the disturbances of public tranquility is not ultra vires the Constitution.

 41. In the case of State of Karnataka v. Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, [(2004) 4 SCC 684], this Court, while observing that each person, whatever be his religion, must get the assurance from the State that he has the protection of law freely to profess, practice and propagate his religion and the freedom of conscience, held more emphatically that the courts should not normally interfere with matters relating to law and order which is primarily the domain of the concerned administrative authorities. They are by and large the best to assess and handle the situation depending upon the peculiar needs and necessities within their special knowledge.

42. The scope of Section 144 Cr.P.C. enumerates the principles and declares the situations where exercise of rights recognized by law, by one or few, may conflict with other rights of the public or tend to endanger the public peace, tranquility and/or harmony. The orders passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attempted to serve larger public interest and purpose. As already noticed, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. complete procedural mechanism is provided for examining the need and merits of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. If one reads the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. along with other constitutional provisions and the judicial pronouncements of this Court, it can undisputedly be stated that Section 144 Cr.P.C. is a power to be exercised by the specified authority to prevent disturbance of public order, tranquility and harmony by taking immediate steps and when desirable, to take such preventive measures. Further, when there exists freedom of rights which are subject to reasonable restrictions, there are contemporaneous duties cast upon the citizens too. The duty to maintain law and order lies on the concerned authority and, thus, there is nothing unreasonable in making it the initial judge of the emergency. All this is coupled with a fundamental duty upon the citizens to obey such lawful orders as well as to extend their full cooperation in maintaining public order and tranquility.

43. The concept of orderly conduct leads to a balance for assertion of a right to freedom. In the case of Feiner v. New York (1951) 340 U.S. 315, the Supreme Court of the United States of America dealt with the matter where a person had been convicted for an offence of disorderly conduct for making derogatory remarks concerning various persons including the President, political dignitaries and other local political officials during his speech, despite warning by the Police officers to stop the said speech. The Court, noticing the condition of the crowd as well as the refusal by the petitioner to obey the Police requests, found that the conduct of the convict was in violation of public peace and order and the authority did not exceed the bounds of proper state Police action, held as under: It is one thing to say that the Police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that, when as here the speaker passes the bounds of arguments or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace. Nor in this case can we condemn the considered judgment of three New York courts approving the means which the Police, faced with a crisis, used in the exercise of their power and duty to preserve peace and order. The findings of the state courts as to the existing situation and the imminence of greater disorder couples with petitioner’s deliberate defiance of the Police officers convince us that we should not reverse this conviction in the name of free speech.

44. Another important precept of exercise of power in terms of Section 144 Cr.P.C. is that the right to hold meetings in public places is subject to control of the appropriate authority regarding the time and place of the meeting. Orders, temporary in nature, can be passed to prohibit the meeting or to prevent an imminent breach of peace. Such orders constitute reasonable restriction upon the freedom of speech and expression. This view has been followed consistently by this Court. To put it with greater clarity, it can be stated that the content is not the only concern of the controlling authority but the time and place of the meeting is also well within its jurisdiction. If the authority anticipates an imminent threat to public order or public tranquility, it would be free to pass desirable directions within the parameters of reasonable restrictions on the freedom of an individual. However, it must be borne in mind that the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attracted only in emergent situations. The emergent power is to be exercised for the purposes of maintaining public order. It was stated by this Court in Romesh Thapar (supra) that the Constitution requires a line to be drawn in the field of public order and tranquility, marking off, may be roughly, the boundary between those serious and aggravated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the State and the relatively minor breaches of peace of a purely local significance, treating for this purpose differences in degree as if they were different in kind. The significance of factors such as security of State and maintenance of public order is demonstrated by the mere fact that the framers of the Constitution provided these as distinct topics of legislation in Entry III of the Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.

45. Moreover, an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. being an order which has a direct consequence of placing a restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble peaceably, should be an order in writing and based upon material facts of the case. This would be the requirement of law for more than one reason. Firstly, it is an order placing a restriction upon the fundamental rights of a citizen and, thus, may adversely affect the interests of the parties, and secondly, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C., such an order is revisable and is subject to judicial review. Therefore, it will be appropriate that it must be an order in writing, referring to the facts and stating the reasons for imposition of such restriction. In the case of Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia (supra), this Court took the view that the Court, while dealing with such orders, does not act like an appellate authority over the decision of the official concerned. It would interfere only where the order is patently illegal and without jurisdiction or with ulterior motive and on extraneous consideration of political victimization by those in power. Normally, interference should be the exception and not the rule.

46. A bare reading of Section 144 Cr.P.C. shows that : (1) It is an executive power vested in the officer so empowered; (2) There must exist sufficient ground for proceeding; (3) Immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desirable; and (4) An order, in writing, should be passed stating the material facts and be served the same upon the concerned person.

47. These are the basic requirements for passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. Such an order can be passed against an individual or persons residing in a particular place or area or even against the public in general. Such an order can remain in force, not in excess of two months. The Government has the power to revoke such an order and wherever any person moves the Government for revoking such an order, the State Government is empowered to pass an appropriate order, after hearing the person in accordance with Sub-section (3) of Section 144 Cr.P.C. Out of the aforestated requirements, the requirements of existence of sufficient ground and need for immediate prevention or speedy remedy is of prime significance. In this context, the perception of the officer recording the desired/contemplated satisfaction has to be reasonable, least invasive and bona fide. The restraint has to be reasonable and further must be minimal. Such restraint should not be allowed to exceed the constraints of the particular situation either in nature or in duration. The most onerous duty that is cast upon the empowered officer by the legislature is that the perception of threat to public peace and tranquility should be real and not quandary, imaginary or a mere likely possibility. This Court in the case of Babulal Parate (supra) had clearly stated the following view : "the language of Section 144 is somewhat different. The test laid down in the Section is not merely `likelihood’ or `tendency’. The section says that the magistrate must be satisfied that immediate prevention of particular acts is necessary to counteract danger to public safety etc. The power conferred by the section is exercisable not only where present danger exists but is exercisable also when there is an apprehension of danger.

48. The above-stated view of the Constitution Bench is the unaltered state of law in our country. However, it needs to be specifically mentioned that the `apprehension of danger’ is again what can inevitably be gathered only from the circumstances of a given case.

49. Once an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is passed, it is expected of all concerned to implement the said order unless it has been rescinded or modified by a forum of competent jurisdiction. Its enforcement has legal consequences. One of such consequences would be the dispersement of an unlawful assembly and, if necessitated, by using permissible force. An assembly which might have lawfully assembled would be termed as an `unlawful assembly’ upon the passing and implementation of such a preventive order. The empowered officer is also vested with adequate powers to direct the dispersement of such assembly. In this direction, he may even take the assistance of concerned officers and armed forces for the purposes of dispersing such an assembly. Furthermore, the said officer has even been vested with the powers of arresting and confining the persons and, if necessary, punishing them in accordance with law in terms of Section 129 Cr.P.C. An order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. would have an application to an `actual’ unlawful assembly as well as a `potential’ unlawful assembly. This is precisely the scope of application and enforcement of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

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