The Karnataka High Court on Thursday held that the order issued by Bengaluru Police Commissioner imposing section 144 on December 18, 2019 ahead of the anti-CAA protests is illegal. Chief Justice Abhay Srinivas Oka, who passed the order, said that the Commissioner’s order does not stand the test of judicial scrutiny laid down by the Supreme Court in 2018.
Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Rajeev Gowda, Jayanagar MLA Sowmya Reddy, and others had filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court on December 19 seeking the quashing of the order passed by the state government on December 18 that imposed Section 144 (prohibitory orders) ahead of massive anti-CAA protests in Bengaluru and the rest of Karnataka. Section 144 was imposed just hours after permissions were given to hold the protests, leading many to question whether it was done deliberately to stifle freedom of expression.
Ahead of issuing the order, Chief Justice Abhay Oka posed a number of questions to the Attorney General Prabhuling Navadgi, who filed objections to the petition on behalf of the state government: “Can an order under Section 144 cancel an already granted permission? Can the state go under the assumption that every protest will disturb the peace? When permission for carrying out protests was given to certain organisations, how can it be cancelled overnight?”
“There is no indication of application of mind by the district magistrate, in this case, the Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru. Exercise of power under Section 144 sub section 1 while passing the order was not at all legal. Whether the district magistrate had grounds to pass the order is not of concern in the matter but whether the order in itself stands to pass trial in a court of law,” he said.
“The order is illegal and does not stand scrutiny in the court as per the parameters prescribed by the Supreme Court in the case of Anuradha Bhasin v/s the Union of India 2018,” CJ Oka added.
The Attorney General representing the state government said that the Commissioner of Police had received reports from 11 Deputy Commissioners of Police stating that “anti-social elements” could create a ruckus during the protests planned on December 19, 2019, which is why Section 144 was imposed.
Chief Justice Oka said that the reports from the 11 DCPs were not enough grounds for the Commissioner to pass the order as it violated Supreme Court orders. In the Anuradha Bhasin case, the Supreme Court had stated that the district magistrate must conduct an inquiry and also stipulate the material evidence and reasons or material particulars in the order while imposing section 144.
He said that in the current case the Police Commissioner had not conducted an inquiry and had not mentioned material facts and neither were the Commissioner’s reasons for imposing Section 144 stated. “There is no indication of application of mind by the district magistrate in this instance. The reports submitted by the DCPs alone are not enough,” he added.