This could very well be the end of moral policing in the city — Mumbai Police, who had recently come under a hail of criticism for harassing citizens with the dreaded Section 110 (public indecency) of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, have decided they will no longer take action against anyone under that provision.

The law has been used to target people for as little as hugging in public. File pic for representation
The law has been used to target people for as little as hugging in public. File pic for representation

Cops have used this law several times to target couples in the city, most notoriously in August, when they had rounded up 40-odd couples from hotels at Madh Island and Aksa and charged them for public indecency.

But this act of moral policing was met with severe backlash from citizens, and the then commissioner Rakesh Maria issued a stern order to cops to stop harassing couples in public places. Despite this, just this month, another couple in Andheri were also targeted under this law, as cops manhandled them at the police station (see History of misuse).

Now, in a high-level meeting last week, top cops decided to nip the problem in the bud. Although the police cannot amend laws, they have passed strict instructions that Section 110 not be used under any circumstances. In addition, the order — passed by Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deven Bharti — also forbids action under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which allows an officer to arrest a citizen — without a warrant or a Magistrate’s order.

When mid-day contacted Joint CP Bharti, he said, “If a couple is walking and they have a small fight or are busy on their own, the police have no right to interfere. Even if there are anti-social elements, action should be taken according to law, and only after asking the senior officer of the police station.”

But this is exactly what some cops fear will compromise their ability to take swift action against criminals. “It was a good decision, but now our hands are tied by the order. Even if someone is doing something wrong, we will be forced to just watch or at the most, give them a warning. The order should have been specific to only couples, as they are the ones who have had to face moral policing under Section 110,” said one police officer who did not wish to be named.