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Public Gatherings

At least our Minister of Police, who is responsible for administering the Regulation of Gatherings Act 1993,1 does not have to contend with crowds like the one on 10 February 2013, when an estimated 30 million people gathered to bathe in Allahabad, India.2

It is not only large convocations that are the concern of the Regulation of Gatherings Act. It also addresses demonstrations, by one or more (up to 14) persons,3 but is particularly concerned about the localities for these events – courts, buildings of Parliament and the Union Buildings being foremost. That said, the Act nevertheless recognises that every person has the Constitutional right to assemble with other persons, and to express his views, freely, on any matter, and in public.

A. Notice

  1. At least seven days before a gathering, its convener must give notice to the ‘responsible officer’ of the local authority, setting out a lot of detail.4 It is an offence to convene a gathering in respect of which this notice was not given.5

  2. After he gets this notice, the responsible officer must consult with the police. If, thereafter, he is of the view that it is necessary to do so, he calls a meeting with the convener, the police and any other interested public body representatives to discuss conditions for the gathering, etc. It is an offence for the convener to fail to attend this meeting.6

  3. If a gathering is postponed, delayed, cancelled or called off, the convenor must immediately notify the responsible officer, and it is an offence to fail to do so.7

  4. Any person who provides false information, for any purpose for which information is required in terms of the Act, commits a criminal offence.8

B. Conduct of the gathering (and demonstrations)

  1. If there is a meeting, and agreement is reached, then the gathering can take place, subject to any conditions agreed upon. If agreement is not reached on the conditions, the responsible officer may anyway impose conditions to ensure: that traffic is least impeded; an appropriate distance from rival gatherings; access to property and work; and the prevention of injury to persons and damage to property. Any person who contravenes such conditions is guilty of an offence.9

  2. The convenor must take all reasonable steps to ensure that all marshals, and all participants, are informed timeously and properly of the conditions for the gathering or demonstration, and commits an offence if he fails to do so.10

  3. It is an offence to have any airgun, firearm, imitation firearm, or any dangerous weapon11 at a gathering or demonstration.12

  4. No one may, at any gathering or demonstration, incite hatred on account of differences in culture, race, sex, language or religion. It is an offence to do so, whether by way of placard, speech, banners, singing, or in any other way.13

  5. It is also an offence to perform any act or utter any words which are intended or likely to cause or encourage violence.14

  6. At a gathering or demonstration you may not wear a disguise or mask, or any item which prevents identification, and it is an offence to do so.15

  7. You may not wear any form of clothing that resembles any of the uniforms worn by members of the security forces. It is a criminal offence to do so.16

  8. It is a crime to compel, or attempt to compel any person to attend, join or participate in a gathering or demonstration.17

C. Prohibitions and police powers

  1. It is possible that certain gatherings or demonstrations are prohibited outright, either in terms18 of the Act or by a responsible19 officer. It is an offence to:20
    • convene a prohibited gathering or demonstration;
    • attend a prohibited gathering or demonstration.
  2. Any member of the police may:
    • prevent people who are participating in a gathering from proceeding to a different place;21
    • prevent them from deviating from the route specified in the notice;22
    • prevent them from disobeying any condition concerning the holding of the gathering;23
    • restrict the gathering to a certain place or route if the 48 hour Notice was not received by the responsible officer;24
    • order any person(s) to stop interfering with a gathering or demonstration;25
    • order them to keep at a specified distance; and26
    • specify necessary areas for passage of vehicles, traffic and to protect property,27
    • and it is an offence to fail to comply with any such order, or interfere with any steps taken in this regard.
  3. If a gathering or demonstration has been prohibited, or anyway if danger to persons and property is (in the opinion of a warrant officer in the police, or a superior officer) likely as a result of a gathering or demonstration and cannot be diverted by the steps contemplated in the previous paragraph, the officer can call on the persons participating in the gathering or demonstration to disperse, and depart from the place within a specified time. If anyone fails to comply with such a directive, it is an offence.28

  4. Any person who hinders, interferes with, obstructs, or resists any official or person in the exercise of powers or duties under the Act commits an offence.29
  1. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by way of Act 15 of 2013. 

  2. The second oldest city in India, Allahabad plays a major role in the Hindu scriptures. Its relevance for the sake of the mentioned rather impressive gathering is that it is located on the sacred confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati Rivers. The happening, Kumbh Mela, is a sacred pilgrimage held every third year, a festival of bathing for purification from sin. See: Wikipedia s.v. ‘Kumbh Mela’. 

  3. A ‘gathering’ is 15 or more persons. 

  4. Section 3(3) of the Act lists the information required. 

  5. Section 12(1)(a). 

  6. Section 12(1)(b). 

  7. Section 12(1)(w). 

  8. Section 12(1)(i). 

  9. Section 12(1)(d) read with section 4(4), section 1 and section 6(5). 

  10. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(2). 

  11. In terms of the Dangerous Weapons Act 2013, this means any object (other than a firearm) capable of causing death or inflicting serious bodily harm. 

  12. Section 12(1)(k) read with section 8(4). 

  13. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(5). 

  14. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(6). 

  15. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(7). 

  16. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(8). 

  17. Section 12(1)(c) read with section 8(10). 

  18. Section 7. 

  19. Section 5(2). 

  20. Section 12(1)(e) read with section 5(2). 

  21. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(1)(b). 

  22. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(1)(b). 

  23. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(1)(b). 

  24. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(1)(c). 

  25. Section 12(1)(9) read with section 9(1)(d). 

  26. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(1)(d). 

  27. Section 12(1)(g) rear with section 9(1)(e). 

  28. Section 12(1)(g) read with section 9(2)(a). 

  29. Section 12(1)(j).