The administrators often use several draconian laws against the public. IPC section 353 certainly deserves a special mention when it comes to the list of top ten of such regulations in India.
“Is it a section to protect honest public servants?”
“As per the language of section 353, it is applicable if the public officer doing his lawful duty is hindered or deterred with a criminal force while performing his task. For example, if someone gets into a scuffle with the police officials in uniform during nakabandi, then, applying IPC section 353 on such accused persons can be fair enough. However, these days, public servants, who are expected to offer service to the public at large, are themselves making a mockery of the IPC section 353 to hide their wrong-doings,” said Mumbai-based senior Advocate Kaushik Mhatre. The senior lawyer suggests police often misuse this provision when they are off duty, or in a civil dress. If someone takes objection against their wrong acts, they fall back upon this section to fill up the lacuna and to side-track their mistake.
The term public servant covers all the elected representatives, doctors (in some states), and government officials. Cops often use it to curb dissent and to intimidate journalists from covering something.
No one would question the police officers if they have valid evidence like video footage to show that the accused person has harmed them, hindered them from performing their duties. But applying the section and arresting the citizens just because they dared to raise their voice and ask questions is entirely unconstitutional. Such cases often fall apart after reaching the court of law. But prove to be harassment, waste of time for citizens as well as the courts that are already over-burdened.
“Supreme Court urged states to control being overzealous while using the concerned section”
In April 2015, the country’s highest court observed how the section could be misused even by the courts to take the citizens’ freedom away within the blink of an eye. A 66-year-old man from Maharashtra’s Shevgaon district was arrested under section 353 and put behind bars because he shouted at one of the court’s employees. After the sessions court, even the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court rejected his bail plea. The victim was forced to approach the SC. The bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph cracked the whip at lower courts for keeping the man in jail for 91 days. It clearly stated that courts should give priority to recover the payment of fine instead of imprisonment.
The section attracts two years of imprisonment or a fine as the punishment in most of the states. It certainly needs amendments to stop its misuse. However, the Maharashtra Government’s June 7, 2018, gazette notification (bill) has increased the jail term from two years to five years in the state. Devendra Fadnavis led Maharashtra Government’s amendment is undoubtedly against the suggestions laid down by the Supreme Court.
“Curbing the misuse is the need of the hour”
Mumbai-based investigative journalist Shahid Ansari also happens to be one of the victims of this section. In June 2011, traffic constable Shivaji Manik Kadam brought Ansari at Mumbai’s MRA Marg Police Station and continued mercilessly beating him even when the journalist was willing to pay the fine for breaking the traffic rule. After beating up, Kadam also filed a case under section 353 against the reporter. Fortunately, the journalist and his colleagues had the station’s CCTV footage in their favor. Due to protests from other journalists, PI Suresh Salunke had to send Shahid for a medical check-up and register his NC complaint against Kadam. Unfortunately, Kadam was not suspended but just transferred after the incident. The cop has been involved in multiple such cases as per Ansari.
If someone attacks a government official, the first step is to get the medical check-up done. The medical report would automatically prove how the concerned official was attacked and with what weapons. Further, a case against the accused persons under section 324 or 307 and of course, 353 sounds logical. In case of an argument with the public, some cops tear their shirt and get people arrested under section 353 claiming they were attacked. The accused person gets arrested, and his/her professional career remains at stake. Such cases fall apart after reaching the court due to lack of evidence. Ideally, an NC complaint should be filed in case of a verbal argument or even in cases where the officials claim a member of the public has torn their shirt. If there are no injuries, no blood, let the concerned officer approach the court and seek an order for FIR like an ordinary man. Some notorious police officers have registered multiple cases against people under the draconian law. They use it as a tool to harass the citizens, and checking the conviction ratio in the cases involving the concerned IPC section certifies the same. The conviction rate is too low because most of the time the law is misused, said Mumbai-based investigative journalist Shahid Ansari while sharing his opinion on the issue.
“I won’t hesitate to say that these days cops often misuse section 353, just like the SC/ST Atrocities Act and the Section 498A. If you question the police in their work, they will file a case under section 353 against you. In September, the Worli police registered a case against me under section 353 and 341 claiming that I caught hold of police vehicle’s steering and forced them to come to the police station. The reality is that I scolded them for stopping their vehicle in the middle of the road and urinating by the roadside during the night of September 20. Other people were wrongly restrained due to the vehicle parked by the constables, so police should have had filed IPC section 339 against the constables instead of turning the table on me,” said anti-corruption crusader, Mumbai police’s Constable Sunil Toke.
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