CHENNAI: Can a protest over a political issue amount to use of ‘criminal force’? This appears to be at the core of questions raised by Raj Bhavan’s Sunday statement that threatened to invoke IPC section 124 against opposition leader and DMK working president M K Stalin for the road-roko staged by DMK near the Governor’s office on Saturday. DMK views the Governor’s meetings with district-level officials as infringing on State rights.
Section 124, mostly used against freedom fighters in the British-era, makes it an offence to use ‘criminal force’ to attempt to ‘overawe’ Governors or the President or restrain them from exercising their ‘lawful’ powers with a jail term of up to seven years. It was invoked, for instance, after Independence during the 2001 attack on Parliament. Experts and interpretation of the legal terminology by various courts raise questions of whether Raj Bhavan’s statement is applicable in the context of DMK’s protests. This hinges on three key phrases in the section: use of “criminal force” to “overawe” the governor to restrain him from exercising his “lawful powers”.
The legal standing on what amounts to “overawe” of an authority has been discussed in judgements by higher courts when dealing with sedition cases, covered under IPC Section 124A. Kerala High Court judge T Chandrasekhara Menon has best summarised the legal sense of the word in a February 7, 1983 judgment. “The word ‘overawe’ clearly imports more than the creation of apprehension or alarm or fear. It connotes the creation of a situation in which the Government is compelled to choose between fielding to force or exposing the Government or the members of the public to a very serious danger,” the judgment says.
How can protest be termed ‘criminal’?
“The word ‘overawe’ clearly imports more than the creation of apprehension or alarm or fear. It connotes the creation of a situation in which the Government is compelled to choose between fielding to force or exposing the Government or the members of the public to a very serious danger,” Kerala HC judge T Chandrasekhara Menon said. It is highly questionable whether such an extreme situation was created around Raj Bhavan or during the DMK’s black-flag waving protests.
Secondly, legal definition of “criminal force” was elaborated in IPC Sec 350 and various higher court verdicts clarifying what amounts to “criminal force”. The essentiality to substantiate that something as a criminal force was the presence of victim in the spot. “It is clear however that by the words “criminal force” it is intended to mean ‘criminal force’ as applied to a person and not as applied to an inanimate object,” a bench consisting of judges Mitter and R Mukherjee of Calcutta HC ruled in 1955, a ruling often quoted in textbooks on IPC. “Law is nothing but common sense. If someone is protesting against a person’s actions, how can that be termed as ‘criminal force’?”asked seasoned advocate Sudha Ramalingam.
Perhaps, the most contentious part of the section was “lawful powers”. Former Madras High Court judge D Hariparanthanam says that claiming that it is a “lawful power” of the governor to call for meetings with the State government officials is utterly wrong.
Stalin leads walkout as speaker refuses to allow discussion on Governor
Chennai: Leader of Opposition and DMK working president MK Stalin on Monday led his party colleagues in a walkout from Assembly after his attempts to raise the meetings that Governor Banwarilal Purohit was holding in every district were thwarted by Speaker P Dhanapal quoting House rules, Congress and IUML members also walked out of Assembly.