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Punjab CM Authorises SSPs & DCs to Book Organisers if Dharnas Go Violent; Safeguards Against Misuse of Authority Missing

November 9, 2018 | By

Chandigarh: Heads of political parties could face criminal action in case a protest by their party turns violent. These are part of the new guidelines for Deputy Commissioners and SSPs in Punjab for giving permission for a function or protests and to take action in case something goes wrong. Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had asked Home Secretary NS Kalsi to prepare detailed guidelines in the wake of the Amritsar train tragedy.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh [File Photo]

The CMO issued a press release on November 6 explaining the new provisions authorising authorities to impose bans, deny permissions, impose conditions and register FIRs against organisers in case the rallies, dharnas or marches go violent.

No Safeguards Against Misuse of Authority:

The press release however did not clear that whether the government has laid down any guideline to book the administration or the police if they commit excesses? From the release it appears that the government has not added any such direction. It is notable that recently a government appointed commission headed by Justice Ranjit Singh had concluded that the police and civil administration committed massive faults, rather serious offenses, in handing the peaceful demonstration by the Sikh sangat after incidents of beadbi of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015. It seems that in this case Capt. Amarinder Singh has just followed the advice of the bureaucracy and did not bother to command the bureaucrats to place some safeguards against misuse of authority by the administration and officials.

The Full Text of Official Press Release issued by the CMO on November 6 reads as follows:

Acting on the directives of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, the Department of Home Affairs and Justice on Tuesday issued comprehensive guidelines for DCs, SSPs and Police Commissioners for the regulation and conduct of processions, assemblies, protests, demonstrations, dharnas and marches, as well as large crowds during the ongoing festival season.

The Chief Minister had asked the Home Secretary to prepare the detailed guidelines in the wake of the Amritsar train tragedy, causing several people to be killed or injured. He had asked NS Kalsi to frame the guidelines for permission to hold religious and social congregations to ensure that no such tragedy takes place in the future.

To address this concern, the Punjab Assembling and Procession guidelines/ advisories, 2018 provide that the competent authority to which application for permission has been sought may obtain NOC, permission or comments from other concerned departments/authorities, such as the police, municipal corporation, PWD, Punjab Pollution Control Board, etc.

In an important decision, the guidelines have made it mandatory for similar NOC/permission etc to be sought from the concerned District Magistrate/Commissioner of Police in case of petrol pump or oil depot being situated near the venue. Similarly, permission is also required from any other department of the central government as needed, such as the Railways, National Highways, Airports etc if the function or procession proposed to be organized in the vicinity of a public place or infrastructure owned by any Department of the Government of India.

According to the guidelines, while granting permission, the competent authority shall take into account, and consider all relevant factors relating to public order, public safety, cleanliness and protection of environment, as well as adequacy of arrangements for handling emergencies etc at the venue and along the routes by the organisers. The competent authority shall also ensure that the organisers and participants do not indulge in destruction of public and private properties, thus complying with the various laws and directions laid down by the courts in different cases.

It shall ensure that there is no violation of the Explosives Act, Explosive Substances Act, especially in the case of sale, purchase, storage, transportation and use of fire crackers, inflammable material like petrol/diesel/gas etc. The Fire Officer of the concerned area will be required to ensure all safety and precautionary measures to prevent any untoward incident due to fire.

The guidelines further mandate that the competent authority shall ensure there is no disruption in normal life of individuals/community in the form of traffic obstruction & chaos, noise pollution by loud speakers of organisers, pollution of environment by throwing garbage etc.

The advisory also stipulates that the entire event, from starting to end, should be got video-graphed technically from the organisers, by the district authorities/Police at the cost of the organisers. If any person or organization including a political party, calls for any violent protest aiming to destroy public or private property, or calls for any protest that subsequently results in destruction of public/ private property, the FIR shall be registered showing the names of the leaders or persons who had expressly called for such protests.

In cases where such a call was made through the official spokesperson or through the official social media account/page of the individual, political party or organization, the charges shall be filed against the chief office bearers of such political party or organization, as the case maybe, as per the guidelines.

The guidelines lay down that permission for such gatherings/events should be made seven days prior to the procession/function, which can be reduced, in the case of an urgency, to five days, or as deemed appropriate by the competent authority.

While the competent authority can deny permission, for reasons to be given in writing, even where permission is given, it shall be subject to certain stringent conditions relating to the nature of the procession/function, as well as entry/exit points, parking place, nature of speeches, adherence to traffic rules etc.

The guidelines, though an Annexure, also provide for detailed instructions for the police to follow for such events, processions, dharnas, marches etc. These relate to planning and management of crowds at the venue, communication channels, on-ground security and safety arrangements, proper checks for terrorists/anti-social elements etc.

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