Law and Order
While the expression ‘law and order’ is wider in scope inasmuch as contravention of law always affects order. ‘Public order’ has a narrower ambit, and public order could be affected by only such contravention which affects the community or the public at large. Public order is the even tempo of life of the community taking the country as a whole or even a specified locality. The distinction between the areas of ‘law and order’ and ‘public order’ is one of the degree and extent of the reach of the act in question on society. It is the potentiality of the act to disturb the even tempo of life of the community which makes it prejudicial to the maintenance of the public order. If a contravention in its effect is confined only to a few individuals directly involved as distinct from a wide spectrum of public, it could raise problem of law and order only. It is the length, magnitude and intensity of the terror wave unleashed by a particular eruption of disorder that helps to distinguish it as an act affecting ‘public order’ from that concerning ‘law and order’. The question to ask is : “Does it lead to disturbance of the current life of the community so as to amount to a disturbance of the public order or does it affect merely an individual leaving the tranquillity of the society undisturbed” ? This question has to be faced in every case on its facts.
“Public order” is what the French call ‘ordre publique’ and is something more than ordinary maintenance of law and order. The test to be adopted in determining whether an act affects law and order or public order, is : Does it lead to disturbance of the current life of the community so as to amount to disturbance of the public order or does it affect merely an individual leaving the tranquillity of the society undisturbed ? (See Kanu Biswas v. State of West Bengal (AIR 1972 SC 1656).
“Public order” is synonymous with public safety and tranquility : “it is the absence of disorder involving breaches of local significance in contradistinction to national upheavals, such as revolution, civil strife, war, affecting the security of the State”. Public order if disturbed, must lead to public disorder. Every breach of the peace does not lead to public disorder. When two drunkards quarrel and fight there is disorder but not public disorder. They can be dealt with under the powers to maintain law and order but cannot be detained on the ground that they were disturbing public order, Disorder is no doubt prevented by the maintenance of law and order also but disorder is a broad spectrum, which includes at one end small disturbances and at the other the most serious and cataclysmic happenings. (See Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar and Ors. (1966) 1 SCR 709.
‘Public Order’, ‘law and order’ and the ‘security of the State’ fictionally draw three concentric circles, the largest representing law and order, the next representing public order and the smallest representing security of the State. Every infraction of law must necessarily affect order, but an act affecting law and order may not necessarily also affect the public order. Likewise, an act may affect public order, but not necessarily the security of the State. The true test is not the kind, but the potentiality of the act in question. One act may affect only individuals while the other, though of a similar kind, may have such an impact that it would disturb the even tempo of the life of the community. This does not mean that there can be no overlapping, in the sense that an act cannot fall under two concepts at the same time. An act, for instance, affecting public order may have an impact that it would affect both public order and the security of the State. [See Kishori Mohan Bera v. The State of West Bengal (1972) 3 SCC 845); Pushkar Mukherjee v. State of West Bengal (1969) 2 SCR 635; Arun Ghosh v.State of West Bengal (1970) 3 SCR 288; Nagendra Nath Mondal v. State of WestBengal (1972) 1 SCC 498).
The distinction between ‘law and order’ and ‘public order’ has been pointed out succinctly in Arun Ghosh’s case (supra). According to that decision the true distinction between the areas of ‘law and order’ and ‘public order’ is “one of degree and extent of the reach of the act in question upon society”. The Court pointed out that “the act by itself is not determinant of its own gravity. In its quality it may not differ but in its potentiality it may be very different”. (See Babul (AIR 1973 SC 197) Mitra alias Anil Mitra v. State of West Bengal and Ors. (1973) 1 SCC 393, Milan Banik v. State of West Bengal (1974) 4 SCC 504).
The true distinction between the areas of law and order and public order lies not merely in the nature or quality of the act, but in the degree and extent of its reach upon society. Acts similar in nature, but committed in different contexts and circumstances, might cause different reactions. In one case it might affect specific individuals only, and therefore touches the problem of law and order only, while in another it might affect public order. The act by itself, therefore, is not determinant of its own gravity. In its quality it may not differ from other similar acts, but in its potentiality, that is, in its impact on society, it may be very different.
The two concepts have well defined contours, it being well established that stray and unorganized crimes of theft and assault are not matters of public order since they do not tend to affect the even flow of public life. Infractions of law are bound in some measure to lead to disorder but every infraction of law does not necessarily result in public disorder. Law and order represents the largest scale within which is the next circle representing public order and the smallest circle represents the security of State. “Law and order” comprehends disorders of less gravity than those affecting “public order” just as “public order” comprehends disorders of less gravity than those affecting “security of State”. [See Kuso Sah v. The State of Bihar and Ors. (1974) 1 SCC 185, Harpreet Kaur v. State of Maharashtra (1992) 2 SCC 177, T.K. Gopal v. State of Karnataka (2000) 6 SCC 168, State of Maharashtra v. Mohd. Yakub (1980) 2 SCR 1158. In the instant case, the incidents related to public order situations.