Right to Protest
Lately, there have been instances of protests in various parts of the country against CAA and NRC and the police action following the same. The recent example is of the police action in a university in Delhi, which has gained wide criticism throughout the country and has opened the debate on the relevance of ‘Right to Protest’ which is derived from Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
- The right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the Indian Constitution—Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression; Article 19(1)(b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
- All protests are legal only if they are non-violent and carried out with appropriate permissions.
- Article 19(1)(3) says this right is subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of public order.
- The State can impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression on the grounds of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offence.
- The State can impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right of assembly on two grounds, namely, sovereignty and integrity of India
- Public protests are the hallmark of a free, democratic society, whose logic demands that the voice of the people be heard by those in power and decisions be reached after proper discussion and consultation.
- For this, the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are necessary.
- Supreme Court in RamlilaMaidan Incident writ case held that “Freedom of speech, Right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas and Peaceful agitation are the basic features of a democratic system.
- Any arbitrary restraint on the exercise of such rights — for instance, imposing Section 144, shutting down internet etc, shows the inability of the government to tolerate dissent.
- An unreasonable limitation on protest is an affront to the very people in whose name a government is allowed to temporarily govern.
Sec 144 of CrCP
- With protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act intensifying at several places across many states, the governments have imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) restricting the protesters from gathering against or in favour of the controversial law passed by Parliament
- The provision has also been invoked repeatedly to restrict people’s movement in Jammu and Kashmir.
- The Supreme Court recently ruled that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, imposing restrictions on citizens' fundamental right to assemble peacefully, cannot be invoked as a 'tool' to 'prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights
- The court also said the power under Section 144, being remedial as well as preventive, is exercisable when there is an apprehension of danger, but the danger contemplated should be in the nature of an “emergency” and for the purpose of preventing obstruction and annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, the court said. It is the magistrate’s call to assess the situation and take a call on whether Section 144 should be imposed.
- While exercising this power, the magistrate is duty-bound to balance the rights and restrictions based on the principles of proportionality and thereafter apply the least intrusive measure. Repetitive orders under the provision would be an abuse of power
- Under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (1973), a magistrate can restrain an assembly, meeting or procession if there is a risk of obstruction, annoyance or danger to human life, health or safety or a disturbance of the public tranquillity or a riot or any affray
- It is imposed in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger of some event that has the potential to cause trouble or damage to human life or property. Section 144 of CrPC generally bars assembly of five or more persons at a place
PEPPER IT WITH
Art 19, Sec 141 of IPC, Doctrine of proportionality
Internet Shutdown In India
- 95 Internet shutdowns announced in India in 2019, 167 areas impacted, according to the Internet Shutdown Tracker, a portal which tracks such incidents across the country.
- Internet services have been suspended 357 times in India since 2014
- 67 percent of the world's Internet shutdowns in 2018 were in India
- The Union government’s steps such as abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have led to violent protests in parts of the country, forcing the administration to suspend Internet services to prevent rumour-mongering and thus prevent more violence.
- In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court said indefinite internet shutdowns violate the country’s laws concerning freedom of speech and expression. The government must pass an order describing the reason and duration of the shutdown each time it wishes to implement this action.
- The bench said the internet is a major part of citizens’ rights that guarantee freedom of expression. It added the government can only shut down the internet as an extreme measure. Plus, such an order will draw judicial scrutiny.
- Under Indian laws, the government can direct telecom companies to shut down services or take down sites, among other things.
- In situations of public emergency or the interest of public safety the ‘Temporary suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017’ is invoked on a case-to-case basis and action is taken as per the procedure.
- The government claims that the shutdown is always based on analysis of intelligence inputs and is subject to periodic review. This is a preventive measure used by the law & order administration as a last resort to address mass protests, civil unrest, so as to ensure peace
- In the era of fast social media dissemination of information/misinformation, internet shutdown is resorted to in select areas to avoid the breakdown of law and order and possible damage to human life and public property.
- Activists and researchers argue that this practice of shutting down the internet not just disrupts the smooth functioning of the state at large but is also not in line with the fundamentals of democracy. Internet shutdowns make human rights a hostage to the whims of the executive: the fundamental rights to speech, conduct business, access healthcare, express dissent, and movement of the people in a state, are compromised
- Shutting the internet results in an information blackout that can also create hysteria, panic and can result in even more discord. Internet shutdown cannot be a solution to a larger governance problem.
The Government has embarked upon a programme to deliver services through mobile and internet apart from promoting a cashless economy. In the absence of internet connectivity, access to various citizens is impacted. Further, neither banking transactions using credit and debit cards nor internet banking can be done, which leads to hardships to common citizens
Protests are an ‘essential dimension’ of mankind. In fact, they are intrinsic to human existence. In India, the right to protest, to publicly question and force the government to answer, is a fundamental political right of the people that flows directly from a democratic reading of Article 19. Hence, a government that promised ‘sabkasaath, sabkavikas, sabkavishwas’ should demonstrate its legitimacy by really listening to everyone provided that the protests are legit, peaceful and non-violent