- The citizens of India have the right to assemble subject to reasonable restrictions.
- Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code is one of the sections that talks about unlawful assembly.
- When 5 or more people gather together intending to disrupt the peace and integrity of the nations, such a gathering is called an unlawful assembly.
- Unlawful Assembly is a very serious offence as it has the potential to disrupt the peace and harmony of the nation and disturb the law and order.
- Section 130 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows the concerned authority to use armed force to disperse the assembly which hasn’t been dispersed despite a command.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution gives certain freedoms to the citizens of India. One such freedom is the right to assemble. This means that the citizens of India have a right to assemble, organize a public gathering, and conduct processions. However, this right comes with reasonable restrictions. Such assemblies and processions should not disrupt the peace and law and order of the Nation and should be done without any arms or ammunition. Thus, the concerned authority can prevent holding up such a public gathering, when there reasonable apprehension of disruption of law and order and if the authority is of the opinion that in doing so they are maintaining public peace and tranquillity.
Unlawful assembly is a serious offense as it hampers the peace, integrity, and harmony of the nation.
Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code defines Unlawful Assembly as an assembly of 5 or more people intending to overawe the Government and the public by use of criminal force.
When Sections 141 and 151 of the IPC are read together, it can be interpreted that when a gathering of not less than five people has gotten together or continues to gather with an ill intention to disrupt the peace and harmony, it was to be contended as an ‘unlawful assembly’. And when such an assembly, despite a lawful order to disperse, doesn’t disperse, the group will be punished. The assembly when commanded to break up, doesn’t do so and continues the malicious gathering for creating chaos and carrying out other illegal offences can be prosecuted for disobeying the law.
To put reasonable restriction on the Right to Assemble, Sections 129 and 130 of the Code of Criminal Procedure talk about the dispersal of such assemblies.
According to Section 129 of CrPC any unlawful assembly likely to cause a breach of public peace may be dispersed by command of any Executive Magistrate or an officer in charge of a police headquarters or a policeman (not below the rank of a Sub-Inspector) by use of civil force.
Further, Section 130 (1) of CrPC states that if any such assembly cannot be dispersed, and if it is necessary for the public security that it should be dispersed, the Executive Magistrate of the highest rank who is present may cause it to be dispersed by the Armed Forces.
Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code talks about – Knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse – “Whoever knowingly joins or continues in any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace after such assembly has been lawfully commanded to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
It is a cognizable offense and is bailable. It can be tried by any Magistrate. It’s a non-compoundable offence. The concerned ministry is the Ministry of Home Affairs and the concerned Department is the Department of Internal Security.
We often come across news such as the police have arrested the accused as per Section 151 of the IPC. Implementation of Section 151 of IPC is generally done in cases of protests. We can take the example of the Citizenship Amendment Act. When CAA was introduced, the country was in a very chaotic state. The nation witnessed a number of protests and rebellious movements by several groups.
Section 151 punishes those people (5 or more) who assemble unlawfully with an intention of disturbing the peace and harmony of the nation. Every person participating in such an assembly shall be held liable under the offence of unlawful assembly. Section 151 can be considered as a ‘preventative gift’ to maintain the law and order in society.
All the procedural machineries of law need to work efficiently in order to maintain discipline in society for the benefit of society. Section 151 was formulated with an aim to discourage any persons from gathering unlawfully.
The main purpose of Section 151 is to punish those people who continue to create disturbance in society. When the offence of unlawful assembly is committed, all the accused participants of the assembly are treated equally. They can be arrested by police officers after an FIR is filed. However, if there is no FIR and if the police come to know about the offence through some other source, the police officers can issue an arrest warrant with the help of the court. The accused are rightfully provided with a lawyer to represent them in court. As per the writ of Habeas Corpus, the detained people accused of unlawful assembly have to be presented before the court.
Four elements need to be fulfilled for the implementation of this section:
1. There should be at least 5 people in such an assembly.
2. The assembly has to have likeliness of breaching public peace.
3. Command has to be given for it to disperse.
4. Force should only be used when such a command has not been adhered to.
Bhanwar Singh vs. State of Madhya Pradesh
The abovementioned case was a landmark case of 2008 which set a precedent for Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code. In the present case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that -
Firstly, it has to be determined whether the case brought before the Court comes under the ambit of Section 141 or not.
Secondly, there has to be no compulsion for the ill intention of the meeting to have been pre-decided and could have been formed in the spur of the moment.
Lastly, the nature and intensity of the intention of such an assembly should be assessed. The arms in possession, the behaviour of the members, and similar elements playing a vital role should be considered. The conduct of the involved participants has to be examined with the current situations being kept in peripheral while assessing the crime.
Komma Neelakantha Reddy & Ors v State of Andhra Pradesh
In the case at hand, Section 151 of IPC was highlighted as there was no evidence backing up the very fact that the assembly had been “lawfully commanded to disperse”. The statements of 3 police officers which were recorded as evidence showed no such command. Evidence showed that they had merely warned those who were involved in pelting stones. The High Court had charged them with the concerned section. The Supreme Court, however, partially allowed the appeal and acquitted those who were wrongly convicted & released them from jail because of the lack of proper command to disperse the meeting which should have been given by the police officers.
OTHER RELATED PROVISIONS
Section 141 of IPC
Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code defines Unlawful Assembly and lays down certain conditions which determine whether an assembly is unlawful or not. At least one of the following 5 objectives must be fulfilled.
1. To overawe the Government by criminal force.
2. To resist the execution of law.
3. To commit a crime.
4. Forceful possession or dispossession of any property.
5. To compel someone to do illegal acts.
Section 142 IPC
Section 142 of the Indian Penal Code talks about ‘being a member of unlawful assembly’. It states that “Whoever, being aware of facts which render any assembly an unlawful assembly, intentionally joins that assembly or continues in it, is said to be a member of an unlawful assembly.”
Section 143 IPC
Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code talks about the punishment for unlawful assembly. It states that anyone who is a member of an unlawful assembly will be punished with imprisonment which can extend up to 6 months or with a fine or both.
Section 144 IPC
Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code talks about joining unlawful assembly armed with a deadly weapon. Any person who joins an unlawful assembly armed, which is likely to cause death, will be punished imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine, or both.
Section 145 IPC
Section 145 of the Indian Penal Code is very similar to Section 151 of the code. The only difference is that Section 145 punishes the person who joins or continues in an unlawful assembly which he knows has been commanded to disperse, with imprisonment which may range to 2 years or fine or both. And Section 151 talks about knowingly joining or continuing in the assembly of 5 or more people after it has been commanded to disperse.
Section 129 of CrPC
Any unlawful assembly, likely to cause a breach of public peace may be dispersed by command of any Executive Magistrate or an officer in charge of a police station or a police officer (not below the rank of a Sub-Inspector) by use of civil force.
Section 130 (1) of CrPC
This Section states that if any such assembly cannot be dispersed, and if it is necessary for the public security that it should be dispersed, the Executive Magistrate of the highest rank who is present may cause it to be dispersed by the Armed Forces.
Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code makes sure that those making use of their rights do it lawfully without disturbing the peace. The Section keeps the citizens in check so that they do not cross any boundaries and makes sure that the police do not overuse their power and due process of law is followed. The Section puts reasonable restrictions on the freedom to assemble conferred on the Indian citizens by the Constitution.
There is a possibility for this Section to be misused by the authorities in charge. However, time and again, the Courts have given out specific explanation and procedure which has to be followed while implementing this Section. In the K. Reddy case, the Supreme Court has also given a clear judgment that protects the citizens from illicit bodily harm. It laid down that the Statutes were to be followed diligently so that justice is done and served to all those acting within their rights.
The citizens of India are given the right to protest. But if these protests get out of control of the police in charge, the police are bound to warn first and then take action to maintain peace and safety of the other citizens and the nation as a whole.