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Unwarranted Section 144

North Goa Collector must review and withdraw prohibitory orders

Citing intelligence inputs of possible terror threat along the western coast of India and anti-social elements committing crime in Goa, North Goa district collector R Menaka has imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code for 60 days which will last till April 10. Paradoxically, the state police have expressed ignorance of any such inputs from any central agency, which raises questions on why Section 144 has been imposed prohibiting assembly of five or more persons in a public place. The UP government has used section 144 to deter anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and take action against even peaceful protesters.

Apparently, the North Goa collector has imposed prohibitory orders for preventing criminal and terror activities. She has directed guesthouse owners and hoteliers to strictly check the identity of their guests. The order is also applicable to cyber cafes, owners of flats and houses and similar service providers and its contravention would attract punishment under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The order states that it was absolutely necessary to take speedy measures to prevent any danger to human life and thwart and prevent any type of terrorist or criminal activity, which may affect the security of the state and create disturbance to public order.

Imposition of Section 144 for a long time has come in for sharp criticism from the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) that feels it would have adverse impact on the tourism sector which is already reeling under economic slowdown and tourist dropout after the outbreak of coronavirus. Enforcement of section 144, feels the TTAG, will create ‘unnecessary scare’ among tourists when the tourism industry is preparing for the four-day Carnival float parade slated between February 22 and 25. It is pertinent to note that Carnival brings in thousands of tourists to the state who may have to face unwarranted security checks that are being carried out by the security forces in the state. The TTAG has said that while security of the state and country was paramount, it has not been able to understand why security measures have been imposed for as long as two months.

 No less surprising is to note that even as prohibitory orders under Section 144 were imposed, Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar expressed ignorance of any apprising about intelligence inputs from central agencies with regard to terror threat to the state. Judging its adverse effect on tourism, he was going to take up the issue with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and make him aware of the economic implications of the prohibitory orders imposed in the district. The expressions of ignorance of the state police as well as of the Tourism Minister about inputs on terror threat to the state make the background of the prohibitory orders issued by the North Goa collector even more mysterious. The collector could not have of course taken the decision on her own. Why was the tourism minister not taken on board when the order was going to impact tourism businesses? There is yet another point to note. Prohibitory orders are imposed for a day or two days or a week or maybe for 15 days if there is serious threat of breach of public order and violence. The fact that the orders have been imposed for two months in a blanket fashion would suggest as though we were facing a really serious threat. But there is no evidence to suggest that the threat to public order is of such a great magnitude. The order does not give any room for fresh assessment of the threat perception after a few days. It is a continuous order suggesting a continuous threat. And that makes it look bizarre and suspicious.

In the past, whenever the central agencies received any input on a terror threat to Goa, they informed the state police which took measures to strengthen security checks and arrangements. The police have handled such inputs without disturbing the normal life of the people residing in or visiting the state. The security checks or vigilance that they might impose are not such as disrupt the life of the people.  Warnings of possible terror attack are mostly general in nature and not state-specific, and the state in such cases normally deploys additional police force to maintain vigilance and increases patrolling by way of preventive measures. Though the state administration must always maintain vigilance against terror or major criminal activities, they should not use prohibitory orders to stifle dissent and peaceful assembly and to bar or impose checks on movements of five or more people. The state government needs to tell the North Goa collector not to cause any more panic and resentment among Goans and tourists and withdraw section 144. There are chances of misuse of prohibitory powers by local officials.

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