Notable judgments on offences against public tranquility

Introduction 

The term “public tranquility” refers to public peace, and therefore any activity carried out by a group of individuals which results in distortion of peace within the society is referred to as an offence against the public tranquility. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 identifies offences against public tranquility which lays down provisions for “offences against public tranquility” spread over Section 141 to 160 of the Code of 1860. The Indian Penal Code categorizes offences against public tranquility into five classes namely:

  1. Unlawful assembly;
  2. Rioting;
  3. Assembly of five or more people when dispersion have been ordered;
  4. Affray;
  5. Promotion of enmity between different classes of people. 

All of these offences are responsible for hampering public peace, and order in society. While unlawful assembly as defined under Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 signifies a group of five or more individuals with a common object to use criminal force to affect the maintenance of peace and order, rioting under Section 146 relates to using of violence, or any kind of force by an unlawful assembly, or by any member who is part of the assembly. Fighting in a public place resulting in disturbance of public peace is referred to as the offence of affray under Section 159 of the Code. Promotion of hatred among groups on grounds of religion, residence, language, place of birth, etc will amount to an offence against public tranquility under Section 153 A. With this overview concerning the offences surrounding public tranquility, this article aims to explain each of these offences by means of judgments delivered by the Indian Courts, and the interpretation provided by them concerning the provisions of these offences over the years. 

Notable judgments on offences against public tranquility

A list of ten judgments relating to the offences against public tranquility has been explained hereunder focusing majorly on the ratio-decidendi of the same. 

Amrika Bai v. State of Chhattisgarh (2019)

The Supreme Court of India in the case of Amrika Bai v. State of Chhattisgarh (2019) took into account the ingredients of Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that deals with unlawful assembly. The facts of the present case involved the deceased getting involved in an attack by a group of accused and the appellant because of his cattle jumping on the door of the appellant’s house which led to the latter abusing the former thereby resulting in the death of the deceased individual. Because of this attack, the appellant had suffered several injuries as well. The issue that arose, in this case, was whether the involvement of the appellant who was unarmed at the time of the attack on the deceased amounted to her being a part of the unlawful assembly under Section 141 of the Code of 1860 or not. 

The Bench of Justices I Banerjee, M M Shantanagoudar, and N Ramana observed that as the role of the appellant in the attack appeared to be doubtful, she could not be considered to be a member of the unlawful assembly because of the lack of a common objective among the members which itself has been the foremost requisite of an unlawful assembly. The Apex Court further went ahead to state that the intent behind the law governing unlawful assembly clears that mere presence of a person in an unlawful assembly could not render that individual to be a part of the same under Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Hence, in this case, the Court ruled out that the appellant would not be charged under the provision of the offence of unlawful assembly. 

Bilkis Yakub Rasool v. State of Gujarat (2019)

The case of Bilkis Yakub Rasool v. State of Gujarat (2019) brought before the Apex Court concerned the Godhara train incident that took place in the state of Gujarat in 2002. The appellant, in this case, was a gang-raped victim of the 2002 rioting who had lost her family in brutal attacks which was a part of the riot. When the case was brought before the Supreme Court in 2019, the appellate aged 40 years was surviving with her daughter, born after the incident, without bare necessities such as shelter, clothing, food. The issue before the court was whether the appellant could be compensated, and get justice under Section 147 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

Taking into account the sufferings of the appellant in the present case, the Supreme Court made the following observations:

  1. A compensation of Rs 50 lakhs was to be awarded to the appellant;
  2. The Court ordered the Gujarat government to take stringent disciplinary actions against the police officials who refused to carry out their duty of extending help to the appellant when was required to;
  3. The Court directed the state government to provide a government job to Bilkis Rassol within two weeks of the enforcement of the judgment taking into account the conditions in which the appellant and her daughter were living. 

Thus the amount of compensation to be granted to the aggrieved party in cases of rioting depends on the merits of the case and therefore differs from one case to the other.

Re: Destruction of Public & Pvt. Properties v. State of A.P. & Ors (2009)

The Supreme Court of India in the case of Re: Destruction of Public & Pvt. Properties v. State of A.P. & Ors (2009) laid down certain guidelines which intended to force preventive mechanisms that are to be adopted in cases of public rioting resulting in damaging of both public, and private properties. While presiding over a suo motu proceeding involving several instances of mass destruction of both public and private properties in the name of bandhs, hartals, agitations, and other like instances, a Bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat, Lokeshwar Singh Panta, and P. Sathasivam took a note of the established connection between tort, and criminal law. While the purpose that underlines criminal law is to safeguard the public interest thereby punishing wrongdoers, tort law functions with a purpose of vindicating the rights of an individual and compensating the victim for loss, injury, or any kind of damage suffered by them.

Along with the ten guidelines that the Court provided, it was observed that the assessment of the damages that have been caused should be carried out on the basis of the electronic media or private video evidence, followed by which the prosecution must separately prove that the destruction caused to the public, and private properties were the consequence of direct actions caused during the protest. The Apex Court in this present case restricted the State government from unilaterally deciding exemplary damages to be awarded to the aggrieved individuals on grounds that in order to reach a conclusion concerning damages to be awarded, there must be an application of judicial minds, and not by amere administrative authority. 

P.S. Kirubakaran v. Commr. of Police, Vepery (2021)

The case of P.S. Kirubakaran v. Commr. of Police, Vepery (2021) brought before the Madras High Court concerned advocates indulgence in criminal activities that constituted a part of unlawful assembly. The facts of the case involved a group of advocates being responsible for the destruction of properties, forcible possession of those properties thereby disturbing the peace, and order in the region. It was further laid down in the petition submitted before the Court that the police officials who witnessed such activities did not take appropriate measures to curb the same on grounds that the men involved in the unlawful assembly included advocates. Throwing light on such instances becoming frequent during the current lockdown period, the High Court ordered the police officials to provide proper protection to the petitioner’s property and prepare a report incorporating the names of the advocate involved in such unlawful activities. This report would further serve as a basis for the Court to draw the attention of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to take relevant action against those advocates.

Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya & Ors (2021)

The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case of Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya & Ors (2021) took into account Section 153 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which deals with the offence of, “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony or enmity between groups of individual” by means of a recognized social media platform, Facebook. The appellant, in this case, had posted unreasonable hatred on Facebook from his account which amounts to speech crime as observed by the Court, which is punishable under Section 153 A of the Code of 1860. Taking a note on freedom of speech and expression being a valuable fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a), the Apex Court could not ignore the reasonable restriction imposed on the fundamental right to safeguard the sovereignty and the integrity of the nation. 

The Court further went ahead to observe that the intention beneath the list of offences inclusive within Section 153 A of the Code has to be judged primarily by the language of the writing of the provision and the circumstances in which it was written and enforced. The interpretation of this Section cannot be done on the basis of strongly worded and isolated passages in order to prove the charge. The issue that was to be decided by the Court, in this case, was whether the post made on Facebook was a reflection of the intention of the appellant to promote community hatred, or not.

Concluding its observation, the Apex Court opined that the Facebook post by the appellant read entirely as a pleading for equality of non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya. Therefore, there was no intention on the appellant’s part to initiate community hatred. As there appeared to be a clear absence of the essential ingredients of Section 153 A, the appellant cannot be detained on grounds of inciting people with such community background to be part of violence. 

Gadadhar Guru and Anr. v. State of Orissa (1989)

The case of Gadadhar Guru and Anr. v. the State of Orissa (1989) which appeared before the Orissa High Court concerned Section 159, and 160 dealing with affray, and punishment for affray respectively. The Court laid down three necessary ingredients that serve as essence of affray stating that an offence of affray can take place only if these elements are abided by, namely:

  1. Two or more people involved in a fight,
  2. The fighting must be witnessed in a public place, and 
  3. The consequence of such fighting must cause disturbance of public peace.

In this present case, the first two ingredients were followed but there was no evidence available that could show that the third essential of the offence of affray took place. Hence, the petitioner was discharged from the charge of the affray. 

Conclusion

In recent times of pandemic, cases on offences against public tranquility have seen steady growth. With the COVID-19 virus spreading its claws with different traits on a frequent basis, misinformation about the pandemic has been in the discussion because of social media platforms. The Karnataka High Court in a recent case of Mohammed Mujeeb v. State (2020) denied bail to an accused individual involved in creating insecure feelings among the general public on religious grounds thereby urging people to get involved in spreading the virus instead of controlling it. This case shows how the judiciary has been involved in safeguarding and maintaining public peace, and order during unconventional circumstances which instead is the only way to give effect to the substantive law regarding ensuring public tranquility under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Thus, judgments delivered by the courts become an essential tool for restoring peace, order, and security in a nation. 

References 

  1. https://lawtimesjournal.in/offences-against-public-tranquility/
  2. https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6614-offences-against-public-tranquility-rioting-and-affray.html
  3. https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/tag/disturb-public-tranquility/

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