The Supreme Court today dismissed a PIL seeking the quashing of FIRs filed under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for violations of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The plea filed by former IPS Officer and Chairman of think-tank Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), Prof Dr Vikram Singh was dismissed by a three-Judge bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai.
The court via video conferencing noted that over 75,000 FIRs had been registered in the country under Section 188 IPC for violations of the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. The Court, however, questioned how the lockdown would be enforced without invoking the said provision.
The petitioner submitted that rule of law could not be selective while adding that the FIRs had been mainly registered against individuals who stepped out of their homes to withdraw money from ATMs, against migrants, and such.
While it was stated these cases burdened the criminal justice system it was pointed out that Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure bars filing of such FIRs.
The Court, however dismissed the petition.
The petitioner had prayed the Apex Court to direct the Centre to advise states to refrain from filing complaints for petty offences during the lockdown.
The petition stated,
“It is most humbly submitted that S. 188 of the IPC must be read with S. 195 of the CrPC, which mandates that only a Magistrate can take cognizance of an offence under Section 188 IPC, and that too on a complaint submitted by a public servant.”
The petition also contended that the legal processes could not be misused by the Police when the Disaster Management Act was invoked.
It said, “The illegal police action, and increasing police brutality through frequent lathicharge during lockdown cannot be allowed to be normalized and institutionalized.”
According to the think-tank’s research, 848 FIRs had been filed under Section 188 in 50 Police Stations of Delhi between the period of March 23 and April 13 while 15,378 FIRs had been filed against 48,503 person in Uttar Pradesh.
The petitioner had also submitted that such action of the police is in violation of the people’s Fundamental Rights under Articles 14 and 21 as well as the order of the Supreme Court directing for the decongestion of jails during this pandemic.
Adding that it would add undue burden on the police, it stated,
“The FIRs are being incessantly filed for trivial offences, which will have to go through their own process, eventually burdening the police, jails and whole criminal justice system.”
While emphasising that he was not promoting violation of the lockdown in any manner,The petition said,
“That at a time when the Police is wielding immense powers, it is necessary for directions to be passed by this Hon’ble Court, so that they can be implemented at the national level, and judicial discipline is maintained.”
The petition was filed through Advocate Virag Gupta while the petitioner was represented by Senior Counsel Gopal Sankarnarayanan.