Since the lockdown was imposed on March 22, a total of 90 police personnel have been injured in 381 attacks in Maharashtra, resulting in the arrest of 904 people. The latest of such incidents was an attack on Mumbai Traffic Police Constable Eknath Parte at Kalbadevi last week.
While the initial attacks on police personnel in the early months of the lockdown were attributed to frustration among people due to restrictions put on their movement, the height of the lockdown was marked by several violent instances of such attacks. In April, a man in Solapur allegedly tried to set a policeman on fire after he was caught driving in violation of lockdown rules.
“Most attacks in the early months of lockdown were committed by people who were frustrated at having to remain indoors. They vented their anger at police personnel who stopped them for moving around. This had greatly reduced now,” said an officer.
Senior state police officers said that while police personnel deployed on the field were instructed to behave politely with those flouting rules, they were also told to use appropriate force when attacked.
A traffic police officer said that attacks like that on Parte by commuter Sadika Tiwari and her friend in Mumbai was a stray incident. Parte was felicitated on Thursday at the same spot where Tiwari had slapped him and tore his shirt. Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh also praised him for keeping his cool. “Ever since the lockdown was lifted, such attacks have reduced greatly. Law-abiding people will never use force against public servants, no matter how frustrated or angry they are. They are well aware of the consequences,” the officer said.
The consequences are that such offences, punishable under Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), can now triable at district sessions courts instead of magistrate courts.
In June 2018, the state government had brought amendments to two sections of the IPC pertaining to public servants – Section 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty) and Section 353 (assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty).
The maximum punishment under Section 332 was increased from three to five years and Section 353 from two to five years. The sections that were bailable and non-cognizable have now been made cognizable and non-bailable. The offences that were tried before a magistrate court were also made triable before a sessions court.
One of the reasons cited for the amendments was the increase in cases of assault on police personnel, especially traffic police. In 2016, 52-year-old traffic constable Vilas Shinde was fatally assaulted after he stopped a minor for underage driving.
A 27-year-old woman working with a food delivery start-up was released from jail last month after a year. She was booked under IPC sections, including 332, for an altercation with traffic police personnel in Navi Mumbai last August. This September, student activist Suvarna Salve (25), who was also booked under these sections, was granted anticipatory bail in a case where she was accused of arguing with authorities over facilities in a containment zone. The court had said that there were no allegations of assault by the police even though these sections were invoked. Human rights activists and lawyers have said that the use of the sections to target protesters has made the amendments “draconian”.
“The existing law has provisions for punishment in case of assault, including on public servants. By enhancing the punishment, the possibility of them being misused and arbitrarily invoked increases, even in cases where there may just be a verbal altercation or confrontation with police. These sections are also being invoked against journalists questioning authorities or protesters to intimidate and deter them from exercising their right to protest, as procuring bail becomes difficult,” said lawyer Lara Jesani.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines