By ANANYA BHARDWAJ
New Delhi: The Delhi Police has received flak for arresting 25 people who had allegedly pasted posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against Covid-19.
All of them have been booked under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code and, among others, Section 3 of the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act.
But this is not the first time that the Delhi Police have registered cases under the Defacement of Property Act.
In 2020, the Delhi Police registered 583 cases under the legislation and arrested 477 people — most of whom had put up posters protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens and then American President Donald Trump’s visit, sources told ThePrint.
The other arrests were made with regards to unsigned posters put up during the Delhi Assembly elections, after the Northeast Delhi riots and Delhi University elections, the sources added.
Similarly, in 2019, over 449 cases were registered, in which 339 people were arrested. Most of these posters, sources said, were related to JNU fee hike and protests against the university’s Vice Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar.
According to Delhi Police data, in 2018, 242 cases were reported, in which 191 people were arrested and most posters, sources said, were those related to Delhi University elections.
In 2017, 1,077 cases were registered under the Defacement of Property Act, in which 672 people were arrested and the jump in cases, police said, was due to three MCD elections that year.
A Delhi Police officer defended the arrests, saying “there is a trend” around these protests and elections.
“Whenever, there is a university election, or an Civic body election or even Assembly elections, these posters come up and we register cases,” the officer said. “During protests, too, many of such posters are pasted all over public places, which is illegal. Also, many times people paste obscene posters or posters with abusive language at public places, all of which is illegal and punishable under this Act.”
Lawyers, however, told ThePrint that the numbers are evidence that the Delhi Police use the act to quell dissent.
“The data reiterates that the police are working for the current government to suppress opposition, dissent and criticism,” advocate Mehmood Pracha told ThePrint. “They are not functioning under the Constitution; they are just serving their political masters.”
‘Criticism not fair’
Over the past few days, several posters criticising PM Modi’s vaccination strategy had surfaced across the national capital.
“Modiji humare bachon ki vaccine videsh kyu bhej diya (Modiji, why did you send vaccines of our children to foreign countries?),” the posters read.
In response, the Delhi Police registered 25 cases and arrested 25 people, most of whom are auto rickshaw drivers, shop owners, daily wage labourers and unemployed people. All the accused were granted bail soon after the arrest.
While legal experts point out that the law was being misused and being “selectively” used, the senior police officer quoted above said the criticism was “unfair”.
“This is not the first time that the Delhi Police has registered cases under this Act or have arrested people. Just like registration of cases under any other IPC section, cases are registered and people booked under this Act as well,” the officer said. “It is not that the police suddenly became active to pull down posters that are illegally put up and arrested people.”
According to the Delhi Police, putting up posters in public places was against the law and a cognisable offence under the Defacement Act. Moreover, since posters were put up when there was a citywide lockdown in place, it was also a violation of the Delhi Disaster Management Act.
The Delhi Police are investigating the role of AAP leaders in these cases.
This story first appeared on theprint.in