If one goes down the memory lane, several districts, more particularly the two capital districts of Imphal had been perpetually under prohibitory orders of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure with only some breaks in between. Under the section, a general order prohibiting gathering of four or more persons and carrying of articles which may be used as a weapon had always been there.
The ultimate purpose of Section 144 is to maintain peace and order in the areas where trouble could erupt to disrupt the regular life. Section 144 is a useful tool to help deal with emergencies. However it has been opined that such wide executive powers with specific objectives, coupled with very limited judicial oversight over the executive branch, makes it ripe for abuse and misuse.
The Supreme Court had also held that such a section cannot be used to impose restrictions on citizens' fundamental right to assemble peacefully, cannot be invoked as a 'tool' to 'prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights'. The court, however, upheld the constitutionality of the law, ruling that the restrictions imposed through Section 144 are covered under the “reasonable restrictions” to the fundamental rights laid down under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. By rule, Section 144 can be imposed for a period not exceeding two months, but here in this state it has been extended again and again.
The order issued most recently on Sunday speaks of certain groups of people reportedly planning to organise processions, rallies, sit-in-protests, public meetings using loudspeakers, and resort to other agitation methods and there is an apprehension that such groups, organisations, unions may cause obstruction, endanger human life and property, disturb public peace and tranquillity and cause riots.
Hence the order, prior permission for organizing processions, rally, lawful gatherings, public meetings using loud speakers etc. must be obtained from the competent authority, i.e., the district magistrate concerned. Of course, the government does not expect such trouble in Naga dominated areas and no restrictions are announced in the districts of Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong and Chandel etc.
Although there is relaxation of curfew hours in several districts, there is still a ban on mobile internet. The state government is of the view that anti-social elements might use media extensively for transmission of images, hate speech and hate video messages inciting the passions of the public which might have serious repercussions for the law and order situation in the state.
Further, there is an imminent danger of loss of life or damage to public, private property, widespread disturbances to public tranquillity and communal harmony as a result of inflammatory material or false rumours and other types of violent activities through various social media platforms, the government order stated.
However, the state government is at a loss when it comes to dealing with bandhs and blockades on the national highways. Of and on, bandh and blockades have been imposed on the highways by groups to keep up the pressure on the government. Nobody seems to bother about the humanitarian crisis that the common people are facing now with food and essential commodities not only becoming scarce but prices soaring and becoming unaffordable.
Imphal-Dimapur road (NH 2) and Imphal-Jiribam road (NH 37) have always been a rallying point for politics by certain communities dotting both sides of the national highways and a pressure point for raising of all kinds of demands and grievances.
Manipur being a land-locked state highly depends on the highways for ferrying in food and all other goods including essential items from outside the state, which is exactly why highway blockades have become a bargaining chip for groups who have an axe to grind with the state authorities or holding it to ransom for realisation of their demands howsoever petty it be sometimes. There is already a court order against bandhs and blockades, which the state government cannot implement properly till now.