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Army For Internal Disturbance

Army’s Involvement In Public Chaos

This discussion on this topic becomes necessary seeing the wave of ongoing protest of the farmers against the three new agriculture laws. In the midst of these protests, a video on social media has gone viral, claiming that the Indian Army has been called in to deal with the demonstrations. However, the validity of the claim was rejected by the government’s fact-checking arm and clarified that the viral video was just footage of the regular movement of troops, which has no connection with the farmer’s protest. So the main question we face here is – can the army be called in for such a form of internal disturbances? The answer would be yes.

Apart from their primary role of protecting the country’s borders, the Armed forces render assistance to civil authority, when called upon to do so. The reasons for the same might be as follows-

  1. Maintenance of law and order
  2. Maintenance of essential services
  3. Disaster relief and other types of assistance

The instances of Army assistance to civil authorities are in quite sufficient numbers. In the past twenty years, there would be around ten to fifteen incidents where the army has been called in to maintain law and order. In 2019, the Pune city of Maharashtra saw a strike by doctors where routine services and OPDs remained shut. In this situation of crises, the Maharashtra government pleaded with the Army for help to provide doctors, when the Army sent roughly twenty-five doctors to help the state in the maintenance of essential services. In Delhi, the last time the Army was called during the 1984 Anti Sikh riots when the riots were spread across the city. According to the Rehabilitation and Welfare Section of the Ceremonial and Welfare Directorate, Adjutant General’s branch of Army Headquarters in Delhi, as many as 34 Army soldiers (including one ex-serviceman) were killed in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Competent Authority To Call In The Army

The Union List, the State List, and the Concurrent List are the three lists that make up the legislative section. There are 61 matters on the state list. The matters of public order and police are under the state list among other main subjects such as state court fees, prisons, local government, public health and sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries, pilgrimages within India, intoxicating liquors, relief of disabled and unemployable, libraries, communications, agriculture, animal husbandry, water supply, irrigation and canals, fisheries, road passenger tax and goods tax, capitation tax, and others. In our constitution, chapter ten of Cr.P.C. deals with the maintenance of public order and tranquility. This chapter is preventive in nature (a field of law aimed towards reducing litigation or increasing the clarity of legal rights and obligations) and extends from sections 129 to 148. It is studied in four parts; unlawful assemblies [section 129 to 132], public nuisance [section 133 to 143], urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger [section 144 to 144A], dispute as to immovable property [section 145 to 148].

Also read: What Does Army Law Say About Homosexuals?

Section 129 of Cr.P.C. gives the executive magistrate, an officer in charge of a police station, or any other police officer, not below the rank of sub-inspector certain powers relating to “unlawful assembly”. Under section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an unlawful assembly is defined as a gathering of five or more people with the common goal of committing an omission or offense. The aforesaid authorities can order these assemblies to disperse and upon non-compliance of order to disperse the authorities can use civil force and if required can also arrest and confine any person or get him arrested and confined. Section 130 of the Criminal Procedure Code empowers the executive magistrate of the highest rank to requisition the aid of the army, such a magistrate may require the officer in command of any group of armed forces to get the assembly dispersed with the help of armed forces under his command. But it should be noted that armed forces shall be done only when the assembly cannot be otherwise dispersed with the help of local police and public security must be dispersed.

How Much ‘FORCE’ Can Armed Forces Use?

Each member of the armed forces shall obey such requisition and do as little injury to person and property, as possible, for dispersing the assembly. Section 130 Cr.P.C. empowers the officer to decide, on his own, the manner in which the lawful assembly has to be dispersed by forces under his command. The third sub-section of section 130 states that the armed forces shall only use a “little force”. As to be clear there is no concrete definition of “little force”, so guiding and instructing the Army personnel in this situation becomes difficult.

In exceptional cases of incompetency to communicate with executive magistrate any commissioned officer of the armed forces may disperse the assembly with the help of armed forces when public security is endangered by any assembly under section 131 Cr.P.C. As soon as communication with an executive magistrate becomes practicable, the officer in charge shall then obey the instructions from the magistrate.

Protection From Prosecution Under Section 132

Any action or exercise of powers by the people in force under section 129 to 131, will not be under the question of prosecution without the sanction of the concerned government. This section says that exercise of powers in good faith shall not be deemed to constitute the commission of an offense. Section 132 provides complete immunity to officials in force in all scenarios of the situation. 

Is It Rightful To Involve Army For Internal Disturbances?

While discussing all the lawful aspects of calling the Army for internal disturbances we can not forget the ethos of the Army, which is secularism and the all-encompassing nature of its existence. The Army in any case should be the last resort and should only be called when everything else has failed, calling the army at the first instance itself reduces its effectiveness. The calling in of the army in less serious issues might give a signal to the police force that the government has lost trust in police, which can lead to mushrooming of bad sentiments in the police force. Police authorities might feel neglected and untrustworthy. The Army is most importantly neither trained nor equipped to deal with the civilian population due to which there might be a greater possibility of usage of excessive force at the government end, which is always deterring to the fundamental rights of the citizens. The common man can lose their faith and respect for this sacred institution in such cases of violence. Moreover, the army is a non-political, non-religious, and trusted institution, and having this force in these delicate matters of social controversies can prove to be a bad decision for the secular name of the army. 

Garima Wadhwa
Garima is a budding writer who likes to create awareness against social taboos through her works of passion. She is currently pursuing LL.B. from Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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