'It is invoked at time of danger'

Special commissioner of police (law and order) Deepak Mishra argues it is sometimes necessary to invoke the often reviled Section of the CrPC to maintain law and order.

Excerpts from a conversation with Vishnu Sukumaran:

Why do Delhi Police frequently invoke prohibitory orders despite a Supreme Court ruling that it can be done only in emergency situations having grave consequences?

Much of the debate around CrPC revolves around the idea of unlawful assembly – put simply, the banning of any kind of protests whatsoever in areas where Section 144 comes into play.

We, however, invoke it only when we foresee danger to life, or disturbance of public tranquility, or a riot. It is crucial to prevent any obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed. In such cases, we are forced to ask people to abstain from a certain act or take an action that can ward off that danger.

What’s your take on the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court being critical of the department, saying that law is being misused to clamp down on protesters in the recent past?

The Delhi High Court had in May 2011 highlighted the issue of passing of repetitive orders under Section 144, but it also disposed of a petition after we submitted in an affidavit that the repeated use of power had been discontinued in New Delhi district. I admit that the Section is invoked around Parliament House when the session is in progress.
Otherwise people are free to carry out peaceful demonstrations across the city. The area around Parliament House has to be protected due to regular movement of parliamentarians and VVIPs. On the other hand, Delhi is the only city in the country where so many demonstrations are held, and we are proud to say that the force has been able to manage them without any untoward incident.

What are the parameters on which Delhi Police decide that a demonstration will be peaceful or can turn violent?

We have dedicated areas in the city where peaceful demonstrations are allowed. Demonstrations are held across the year by multiple organisations at Jantar Mantar, and Ramlila Maidan is made available when assembly of a large group is expected. Organisers of the events, however, have to take permission from local police stations.

We analyse the application filed, over which permission is granted or denied, and security is provided to maintain law and order. We also evaluate the possibility of the demonstrations turning violent. It can be highlighted how protesters tried to break barricades and clash with security personnel in the past. Due to such a scenario, I consider that prohibitory orders are necessary to maintain law and order in the city.       

What action can be taken against a person or group detained during execution of prohibitory orders?

We detain people under Section 65 of the Delhi Police Act, and they are normally let off before 24 hours. The law lists safeguards like stipulation that an arrested person has to be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours. It, however, empowers us with powers of arrest, summons, search and seizure necessary to deal with public nuisance and prevention of offence.

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