Thane Matadata Jagran Abhiyan on Thursday held a sit-in protest in front of the Collector Office against the draconian amendment in Sections 332 and 353 of IPC, which they claim as an infringement on constitutional and democratic rights of the people. With this amendment, the protesters can be charged for obstructing officials in discharging their duties. Activists claimed that there are enough provisions for this in the existing law, however, there was no necessity for such amendment that leads to arrest with a simple complaint without carrying out an investigation. Moreover, a complainer or a protester can be slapped with up to five years of imprisonment or fine or both, hence, there are chances of misuse of such ‘brutal’ provisions by the officials, the protesters poured out. “We want, the upcoming assembly session to bring the government’s attention to this matter and such anti-people amendment must be withdrawn,” stated one protester.
Feeling the need for harsher punishment in view of increasing incidents of assault on public servants, including doctors and police, the state government issued a gazette notification on June 7, 2018, bringing into force the amendment to the Indian Penal Code of Criminal Procedure (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2017, in its application to the state. The Bill was introduced in the state legislature during the budget session and was passed unanimously.
The Bill amended Section 332 which refers to the “voluntary causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty,” and Section 353 which refers to “the assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging the duty,” allowing for five-year imprisonment or fine or both. Under both the sections, the offence is cognisable and non-bailable. However, before this amendment, cases registered under the section 332 and 353 were tried in the Courts of Judicial Magistrate of First Class (JFMC) and had a maximum of three and two years in jail respectively. Whereas, now the punishment for both these sections has been increased to five years, non-bailable, and such cases are tried in the sessions court.
Expressing his concern over the amendment, Social Worker Sanjeev Sane expressed, “Amendments to IPC Section 332 and 353 are ridiculous and anti-people. If any violence takes place against the government officials, an investigation should be done before taking any further action. FIRs must be registered against the violators and not the innocent and peaceful protesters.”
Sane further added, “We are requesting the Collector to help our memorandum reach the Chief Minister. We have invited all political parties in Thane to support the Dharna. We will also highlight the matter in the upcoming assembly session.”
The amendments have also not been received well by the legal eagles and social workers who feel that the amendment has left a lot of scope for misuse of the Sections. They also believe that the changes could be used to suppress public movement against the administration or the government. A member of the Thane Matadata Jagaran Abhiyan uttered, “People, all political parties, organisation workers, and activists have the right to protest and the right is given to us by our Constitution. The changes to IPC Section 332 and 353 are a threat to the democracy.”
There have been many cases reported in Mumbai where the IPC Sections 332 and 353 were misused by the public servants; journalists Ram Parmar and Hussain Khan were arrested by the police on June 22, 2018, when they went to a police station to investigate a report and managed to secure bail on June 25 after spending four days in the custody. Thane Matadata Jagran Abhiyan President Anil Shaligram expressed, “IPC Section 332 and 353 will create problems in near future and the act should be changed. We live in a democratic country and everyone has the right to ask questions. Protests against the same must be conducted across Maharashtra. If the issue does not get resolved soon, we will take our protest to the Chief Minister.”
In another case this January, the BKC police detained freelance journalist Priyanka Borpujari when she was covering a demolition in Santacruz. She was charged under Section 353 along with four other women from the slum for obstructing the demolition squad; however, she later claimed that she was filming the violent and brutal manner in which the squad was dealing with the slum-dwellers. She also said that a police officer told her that her mere presence was instigation for the slum-dwellers to protest more blatantly.
In a conversation with Afternoon Voice, Bombay High Court Advocate Pravin Naik explained, “The purpose behind this amendment was purportedly to safeguard the public servants from assaults during the discharge of their official duties, but it has been abused more often by the police department. In such cases when a public servant is attacked, not in connection with the discharge of his duty but because of some personal quarrel between him and the accused, Section 332 is used to hold the accused guilty. An offence must be established with evidence before any action is being taken.”
“Proper sanctioning mechanism is needed to verify the authenticity and maintainability of the complaints under the aforementioned provisions and if the public servant is filling a false complaint, he/she should also be criminally prosecuted.”
Thane Matadata Jagran Abhiyan Secretary Dr. Chetna Dixit asserted, “This act is highly troublesome for the activists and common people. All government officials are public servants and must be answerable to the public. The government officials behave with the complainants as per their mood. Strict action must be taken if a government official is being tortured or abused but innocents should not fall victim to this act.”