Five leading citizens based in Ahmedabad have filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court (HC) on Thursday challenging the continuous issuance of orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Gujarat Police Act Section 37, specifically seeking the quashing of two such orders issued on December 13 and December 10. The state is expected to submit instructions at the next hearing on January 9, 2020.
The petition moved by professors affiliated with various universities and businesspersons based in the in the city highlighted that such orders are issued in Ahmedabad “in a routine course of manner and in the identically worded texts”, further submitting that such orders under Section 144 “are operating in the entire city of Ahmedabad for years without providing any notice before or after the passing of the same” and compliance can be expected from citizens only if such orders are notified to the public at large.
The petition comes on the back of the presidential assent to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. The petitioners include IIM-A professors Navdeep Mathur and Ankur Sarin, businesspersons Archana Shah and Sanjiv Shah, and Ahmedabad University professor Raghavan Rangarajan, who was formerly a faculty with the Physical Research Laboratory.
“On December 16, 2019 many residents gathered outside the Indian Institute of Management to show solidarity against violence committed at the Jamia Milia University. The police had detained many of them immediately even before any demonstration could take place. Again, on December 17, 2019 hundreds of residents had gathered outside the Sabarmati Ashram and had debated, discussed and expressed their views in a peaceful manner. A permission was also sought… and the same was granted. No incidence of any violence was reported. Again, on December 19, 2019, …residents peacefully gathered outside Jhansi ni Rani Statue but as no permission of protest was granted, they were detained for a few hours. It is also pertinent to state that the copy of the impugned orders which was cited as being violated by the protesters was not available either on website nor any other known social media including newspapers,” states the petition.
As per the petition, Mathur was detained on December 16 from the assembly outside the IIM-A, while the Shahs and Rangarajan were detained on December 19. The petition contends that the orders are issued without jurisdiction as under Section 144 of CrPC, and that the power to issue such orders lie with the district magistrate, a sub-divisional magistrate or any other executive magistrate, specially empowered by the state government in this behalf.
“It is submitted that the orders are passed by Police Commissioner and therefore the same are without authority and jurisdiction,” the petition states.
Further challenging the blanket ban over the whole city, the petition states, “…the order cannot be made applicable to the entire city of Ahmedabad. It is submitted that subsection 3 of Section 144 states that an order may be issued to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place or area.”
The petition has sought that the two orders on December 13 and December 10 be quashed and set aside, along with any other such orders issued and may operate for subsequent period. The petitioners have also sought the court’s direction to the city police commissioner that they “actively publicise every order” issued under Section 144. In the meantime, the petitioners prayed that presently operational orders be stayed from implementation and operation.
The petition further states that “at least 64 notifications are on the website (of the Ahmedabad city police) which pertain to prohibition of assembly of more than four persons” from April 15, 2016 to November 26, 2019. The petition also states that “at least 61 notifications are uploaded on the website which pertain to prohibition of singing songs, playing music in public and exhibition and dissemination of pictures, symbols, placards between April 22, 2016 to November 18, 2019.”
The petitioners have submitted that the respondents be called to provide the total period for which this repetition of orders is continuing.