Written by Sushant Kulkarni | Pune | January 21, 2021 2:38:42 am
As per the data available from the Maharashtra Police headquarters, 3,08,070 cases under Section 188 have till now been registered since Marsh 23 last year. (File)
A large number of cases registered under Indian Penal Code Section 188, filed against violators of various Covid-19 lockdown norms since March last year, are going to be withdrawn, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Wednesday. As per the available data, nearly 3.08 lakh cases of Covid-19 lockdown norm violations have been registered across various jurisdictions in the state till date.
Deshmukh said in a tweet, “During the lockdown, cases were registered under IPC Section 188 against people who had violated various norms of the lockdown. The state government will be withdrawing these cases, following the judicial procedure.”
A complete lockdown was ordered by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on March 23 last year, a day prior to the nationwide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Following Thackeray’s announcement, the 44 police jurisdictions across Maharashtra had issued prohibitory orders in their areas of responsibility under Criminal Procedure Code Section 144, in line with the state’s orders.
Since then, these prohibitory orders have been renewed, with modifications as per the changing norms of the lockdowns and the subsequent opening up of economic activity in a phased manner. During this period, the Epidemic Diseases Act and Disaster Management Act were also invoked, which empowered government authorities to put restrictions, including closure of district and state boundaries, making masks compulsory in public places and putting restrictions on people’s movements as per the local situation.
Since the beginning of the first lockdown, offences have been registered against people who have been found violating these prohibitory orders. These cases have been registered under Indian Penal Code Section 188. The provision pertains to ‘Disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant’ and attracts a jail term which can extend up to six months and a fine — if the disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety. Otherwise, the quantum of punishment is one month.
Other than being booked under this cognizable offence, police have collected compounding amounts or fines from some people and in many cases, vehicles were also seized. In some cases registered under Section 188, courts had also conducted hearings and awarded fines or minor sentences.
At many places across the state, registration of these offences and police action has become a cause of friction between police and local residents. Police personnel who remained frontline workers during these phases of lockdowns and opening up, suffered a major setback due to the pandemic, with nearly 29,000 Covid-19 cases in the 2 lakh-strong force and over 310 deaths.
As per the data available from the Maharashtra Police headquarters, 3,08,070 cases under Section 188 have till now been registered since Marsh 23 last year.
When asked about the procedure to withdraw cases, Additional Director General (Law and Order) for Maharashtra, Rajender Singh, said, “Initially, the data of all these cases and information of their status will be collected. As per the directives of the state government, a committee will be set up for this purpose, which will lay down the norms for withdrawing these cases. Subsequently, reports will be submitted to individual courts of the jurisdictions where these have been registered. The courts will rule on the state government’s plea to withdraw these cases through respective public prosecutors. No cases can be withdrawn without the court’s approval.”
On April 1 last year, in the first conviction for lockdown violation under Section 188, a court in Baramati had sentenced three persons to three days’ imprisonment after they were caught commuting without a valid reason or police permit. Because courts largely functioned only for urgent matters for most of the lockdown period and even after that, the number of cases which reached the court remained small. A number of police jurisdictions have drastically reduced the registration of these cases now, said officials.