. The reiteration by the Supreme Court in the Shaheen Bagh case of the right to protest, within reasonable restrictions, helps in understanding the breakdown of public order in Delhi over a three-month period. There are two perspectives explaining the 16,000 calls to the police, 3,500 on one day, registration of 751 cases, 53 deaths, and destruction of property of over ₹20 crore and the initial charge sheet running into 17,000 pages against 15 people.
The Police Commissioner, responding to criticism of partisanship, rightly pointed out that the criminal justice system, with its inherent checks and balances, be allowed to work. The other perspective is that community-wide protest is not itself a crime and Delhi Police, having magisterial powers under the Criminal Procedure Code to take preventive action, failed to maintain public order. The public policy issue, as the alleged Shopian encounter underlines, is that such delegation confuses powers with roles.
Judicial review of roles and proportionality of decisions for maintaining public order, to check whether they are the least intrusive measure, requires a policy rethink if such duties need to be delegated to the police. Pertinently, the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution distinguishes between ‘police’ and ‘public order’.
Prevention through grievance redress and reliance on the least blunt instruments are critical for legitimacy, eschewing an adversarial view. The National Police Commission also recognises the coordinating role of the District Magistrate, having more leverage than the police. Kerala has both a District Magistrate responsible for public order and a senior police officer as city Police Commissioner focusing on crime.
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