Mumbai Lawyers slam city’s ‘moral’ police

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Legal experts have sharply criticised Mumbai Police circular ordering a crackdown on "indecent behaviour by couples at sea-fronts". Lawyers say the circular relies on a vague and archaic section under the Bombay Police Act and police have once again gone overboard.

The advisory, with the subject 'Indecent behaviour by couples at seafronts and the role of the police', the advisory, issued by the Special Branch on January 14, states that during low-tide, couples visit isolated places at Worli, Girgaum, Marine Drive, Bandra Bandstand, Juhu Chowpatty and other seafronts in Mumbai. It says that anti-social elements could could threaten and mug them, sexually assault women or even murder them.

The circular states that couples found in secluded spots should be driven away by the police and if necessary, action should be taken against them. On Thursday evening, the police retracted the circular.

"This is a restriction on the freedom of movement," said senior advocate Vineet Naik. "Curbs are being imposed on public because police have no control over anti-social elements," he said.

Lawyers say that police can invoke section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, which pertains to indecent behavior in public. The section of the law attracts a fine, but there is nothing that legally defines "indecent".

"Indecency is a matter of perception. For some, holding hands may be indecent. For others, it could be wearing jeans. But dos and don'ts cannot be laid down by the police or courts. Unless there is a definition for indecent, everyone will be at the mercy of police who can misuse the law to harass couples. Section 110 has to be done away with," said lawyer Veena Thadani.

Criminal lawyer Rizwan Merchant said indecency is difficult to define and the old provisions in the law need to be amended. Until then, the only remedy for couples booked under the provision is to challenge it in court, he said.

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