Offences Against Public Tranquillity

By | January 19, 2020
Offences Against Public Tranquillity

This article “Offences Against Public Tranquility” deals with the offence of Unlawful Assembly, Rioting, Affray and Promoting Enmity between Classes in detail.

I. Unlawful Assembly: Section 141

The overall idea behind criminalizing of an unlawful assembly is to prevent the rise of a tumultuous assemblage of persons in order to preserve the public tranquillity or peace and welfare of the public.

For the constitution of an offence of unlawful assembly five ingredients have to be established and they are as follows:

  • An assemblage of five or more persons

All such persons may not have the same object initially; however, end up developing a common object subsequently. Also in the case where some persons amongst the accused persons have been acquitted or have evaded justice and thereby bringing the number of the assemblage down to below five, will render section 141 inapplicable,[1] unless any other person involved are unnamed or unidentified.

The Apex court in the case of Mohan Singh v. State of Punjab,[2] wherein the three remaining accused could not be convicted considering that the other two accused had been acquitted and unless some other persons remained to be named or identified.

The court further opined that nevertheless, the reduction of the number from five will not affect the validity of the charges under section 149, if the court is able to observe that the assemblage in actuality was composed of five or more than five persons, yet, due to lack of identification have not been named.[3]

Section 149 lays down the provision for vicarious liability of members of an unlawful assembly who shared the common object. The Apex Court in the case of Nanak Chand v State of Punjab:[4]

“Under this section, a person who is a member of an unlawful assembly is made guilty of the offence committed by another member of the unlawful assembly, in the circumstances mentioned in the section, although he had no intention to commit that offence and had done no overt act except his presence in the assembly and sharing the common object of that assembly.

Therefore, when the accused are acquitted of riot and the charge for being the members of an unlawful assembly fails, there can be no conviction of any one of them for an offence which he had not himself committed.”

In the case of Ram Bilas Singh v. State of Bihar[5], the Apex court has enumerated certain situations wherein, even when the number of the person composing the unlawful assembly is reduced to less than five, still conviction can be constituted and they are:

  1. The charge must mention that other than the persons identified and named, there are other persons who were involved however have not been identified and as a connection to prove this evidence must be accepted by the court
  2. Even if there is no such mention in the charge, the first information report must reflect such to be the case
  3. Other evidence to show the existence of other unidentified persons
  • All of them must have a common object

The word ‘object’ refers to a design or a purpose and for this object to be common all the persons composing the unlawful assembly must share and possess it.[6] All of them must concur in it. To prove the existence of a common object by direct evidence is difficult as it is a question of fact and therefore has to be determined on the basis of facts and circumstances of the case at hand.

The word ‘assemble’ connotes to the meeting of the person pursuant to a common object and with an intention to provide such an object with a further effect.

The common object could be:

  1. To overawe the central or the state government or its officers by showing criminal force
  2. Resisting the execution of legal process
  3. Act of committing mischief, criminal trespass
  4. Possession and dispossession of property by exercise of force
  5. Illegal compulsion

Being a Member of Unlawful Assembly And Involvement of Deadly Weapon: S. 142- 143, S.144- 145

Section 142 lays down the provision with respect to the definition of a person who can be said to be a member of an unlawful assembly. There are two circumstances:

  • A person being aware of all the required facts which make the assembly unlawful
  • Joins or continues being a part of it with all intention even after knowing all the facts

So the section tells that a person may join the assembly at any time from its conception, nevertheless, such a person once after acquiring the knowledge of the unlawful nature of the assembly if still continues being a member of it has to shoulder the liability thereon.

‘Continuance’ in an unlawful assemblage necessitates the existence of a mental element indicating the possession of the common object and thence mere physical presence is not sufficient to convict a person.[7] Section 143 provides a punishment of six months imprisonment or fine or both for a person charged for being a member of an unlawful assembly.

Section 144 contemplates an aggravated form of the offence of unlawful assembly when the person joins it accompanied with a deadly weapon and a punishment of two years of imprisonment and fine is provided for the same. The ingredients which need to be satisfied before Section 144 can be imposed on a person are as given below:

  • A member of an unlawful assembly
  • Use of a deadly weapon or a weapon which if used is likely to cause death

The important provision to note here is that a person not carrying a deadly weapon will still not be absolved of his liability under this section if he happens to be a part of such an unlawful assembly which is armed with a deadly weapon.

Section 145 lays down the provision wherein a person joins or continues in an unlawful assembly that has been commanded to be dispersed. Such a person shall be punished with imprisonment of two years. However, if such an assembly is not unlawful and constitutes a group of five or persons who have been ordered to disperse, so any person joining or continuing to disturb the public peace shall be punishable under Section 151. Section mandates that the accused must have caused disturbance knowingly.

Rendering Aid in Unlawful Assembly: S. 150, 157, 158

Section 150 provides for hiring or conniving for hiring, of persons to join an unlawful assembly. Primarily this section intends to get hold of the originators and the instigators of the offences perpetrated by others. Neither does this section deal with abetment nor the participants of the crime but with such persons who engage in hiring or employing such persons who would join an unlawful assembly. Such persons are to be treated at par with the person who is a member of the unlawful assembly.

Section 157 lays down the provision to ensure the conviction of a person who:

  • Harbours, receives or assembles persons in any house or premise
  • Such a house or premise must be under the charge or control of the person
  • The persons had been hired, employed and assembled to be a member of the unlawful assembly
  • The person convicted must have been aware of these facts

Section 158 convicts a person who hires or employs himself to become a member of an unlawful assembly and assist it.

II. Rioting: S. 146 – 148

The application of section 146 presupposes the existence of an unlawful assembly with a common object to achieve. The other ingredients which must be satisfied for the conviction for an offence of rioting are:

  • Force or violence have been exercised by the assembly
  • Exercise of such force and violence has been done pursuance to achieving their common object.[8]

The provision requires the unlawful assembly to exercise actual force and not mere show of force. Also, the provisions of this section will apply to those members of the assembly who did not carry out the use of force or violence. However, it is important to note that the actions of unlawful assembly will not amount to rioting if their common object is not illegal even when there is an exercise of force.[9] Persons breaking into a sudden quarrel do not amount to committing the offence of rioting.[10]

Punishment for the offence of rioting is imprisonment for two years or fine or both. Further, Section 148 speaks about an aggravated version of Section 146 where the unlawful assembly commits riots by using a deadly weapon. The punishment for such an offence is three years. Nevertheless, if in an unlawful assembly committing riots only a few members are armed with deadly weapons then the other will not be held liable under Section 148 and will only be punished under Section 147.

Section 153 is important with reference to provoking with an intention that a riot be carried out by an unlawful assembly. A person can be convicted under this section if he in pursuance to aforementioned intention does any act which illegal in a malicious or reckless manner. The provocative acts or words do not take into account an act of abetment or instigation.[11] However, the word ‘provocation’ occurring in this section does not cover a chance provocation.[12]

Provoking of Riot: S. 152, S. 154- 156

Section 154 makes the owner or occupier of a land criminally liable who fails to give information to the public authorities or take necessary legal steps to the unlawful assembly or riot being carried out on such land.

Section  155 deals with the action of an owner or occupier of the land who claims any interest in the dispute which gave rise to the riot or derives any benefit due to such a riot, if fails to use any lawful means to prevent or suppress such riot must be punished.

Section 156 deals contemplate the sanctions on an agent or manager or owner of the land on which riot has taken place if they had reasons to believe that such a riot may take place and have thereby have failed to suppress or prevent it and have derived some benefit therefrom.

Section 152 holds a person liable if he assaults or obstructs the suppression of a riot or affray by exercising force or threat to a public servant who is trying to disperse an unlawful assembly by punishing such a person with imprisonment for three years.

III.Affray: S. 159

When two or more persons disturb the public peace by indulging in a fight, they are said to have committed the offence of affray. However, this section cannot be attracted for acts involving merely a quarrel without an exchange of blows. Further, a fight where one party is aggressive and the other passive will not constitute an affray.[13] There must be a struggle between both the parties implying an effort from both the parties to obtain mastery by violence. Persons convicted for committing affray are to be punished under section 160 with a description for a term which may extend up to one month or a penalty of Rs.100.

IV. Promoting Enmity between Classes: S. 153A, 153B, 153AA

Section 153A was inserted in the Code in the year 1898 with a view to subside the breach of public peace and tranquillity due to conflicts and mutual abuse amongst various classes.

The section holds a person guilty who promotes or attempt to promote discord and animosity between different regional, caste, religion or racial communities and such act must disturb or must be likely to disturb the public tranquillity. Further, any sort of movement, exercise, activity or drill perpetuating the use of force or violence against any of the groups aforementioned shall also fall in the ambit of Section 153A.

In the case of Sheikh Wajid Waddin v. State of Uttar Pradesh,[14] the constitutionality of Section 153A was challenged on the grounds it infringes Article 19(2). The Apex court has upheld the provision and held that:

“Section 153A on the ground that it violates the guarantee of free speech and expression must be rejected because the section seeks to punish only (a) such acts which have a tendency to promote enmity or hatred between different classes, or (b) such acts which are prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between classes and which have the tendency to disturb the public tranquillity. Article 19(2) would, therefore, save Section 153A as being within the scope of permissible legislative restrictions on the fundamental right being guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a).”[15]

Section 153AA prohibits any mass drill or mass training with carrying of arms in a public place by a person who does thiswhile knowing the fact that such an act is in contravention of a public notice issued under Section 144A of Code of Criminal Procedure. Such a person shall be punished with imprisonment for six months and a penalty of two thousand rupees.

Section 153B was inserted in the year of 1972,[16] to contain the rise in the communal and caste tensions emerging in the country which did not just create disharmony amongst the different communities but also affected the national integrity of the nation. The section holds any person who:

  • Publishes an imputation that a particular community by reasons of the following or being a member of a particular religion, racial, regional or language group cannot bear true and complete allegiance to the integrity of the nation;
  • Asserts and propagates that a certain group for the reasons aforementioned be bereaved of their rights as a citizen of India;
  • If any of the aforementioned actions if perpetuates the creation of discontent and disharmony amongst the community or class of persons and causes to give rise to ill will and animosity;

shall be punished with three years imprisonment or fine or with both. Further, if any of the aforementioned actions be committed in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship then such person shall be punished with five years imprisonment and fine.


[1] Sunder Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1987 SC 826

[2] AIR 1963 SC 174

[3] Subran @ Subramanium v. State of Kerala [1993] 3 SCC 32

[4] AIR 1955 SC 274

[5] [1964] 1 SCR 775

[6] Sheikh Yusuf v. Emperor AIR 1946 Pat 127

[7] Hanuman Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1969 All 130

[8] Hazara Singh v. State of Punjab [1971] 3 SCR 674

[9] Miku v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1989 SC 67

[10] Ananta Kathod v. State of Maharashtra [1997] 11 SCC 564

[11] Emperor v. Ahmed Hasham [1932] 35 Bom LR 240

[12] State of Orissa v. RC Chowala AIR 1966 Orissa 192

[13] Sheoraj Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [1978] Cr LJ [NOC] 84 [All]

[14] AIR 1963 All 335

[15] Gopal Vinayak Godse v. Union of India AIR 1971 Bom 56

[16] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1972, s 2


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