The archaic law used by controversial cop Vasant Dhoble to browbeat the city’s nightlife got a new name recently, but no changes have been made to its provisions, including the one loosely defining indecent public behaviour, with which the assistant commissioner of police launched an intimidating drive against party-goers.
The Bombay Police Act (BPA) of 1951, which was often referred to as the ‘Black Police Act’ by those who found themselves at the receiving end of the Social Service Branch (SSB) headed by Dhoble, was changed to the Maharashtra Police Act through an amendment effected to the Maharashtra Act in 2012.
However, since the publication of the Act by the government press took a year, police will start using the new nomenclature from this month.
Sources in the home department told HT no changes have been made to the provisions under various sections of the Act, raising fears that the police can still go about applying their narrow interpretation to morality and decency in public under section 110 of the Act.
But not all see the BPA as antipeople. “Just because of some instances of misuses, the Act itself should not be blamed,” said former sessions judge VP Patil.
“A knife is used by a surgeon as well as by a criminal. While one uses it to give life, the other uses it to take it away. A law is always good since there is always a lot of thinking before its promulgation. It is up to the law enforcing machinery how they use it,” he said.
Terming the BPA an “effective law”, judge Patil said it has come in handy in dealing with petty offences. “Nevertheless, it is old wine in a new bottle,” he admitted.
Noted criminal lawyer Majeed Memon said the punishment spelt out under the provisions is less severe.
“This Act was mostly used in minor offences, and has little role in criminal jurisprudence,” he said.
However, Memon suggested that certain provisions, like section 110, “need to be reexamined”.
An SSB officer said: “How else do we maintain public decency, especially now that dance bars have been legalised again.”