One shouldn’t believe all one reads, even if it is in a published book. I have two books on weird laws across the world. One of these claims, in Louisiana, the US, snoring is prohibited unless all bedroom windows are closed and securely locked. The second gives credit for this odd piece of legislation to Massachusetts. These days, there are databases to search legislation in many parts of the world. I couldn’t find any such legislation in either Louisiana or Massachusetts. Crime is always defined with reference to a specific piece of legislation. Were those statutes really to exist in Louisiana or Massachusetts, snoring with open windows would have been a crime against society, not merely a civil wrong. Recently, there was a report about an incident on the Pawan Express from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to Darbhanga. A passenger was snoring too loudly in a 3rd AC coach and this disturbed fellow passengers. After a heated argument, fellow passengers forced this passenger to remain awake. We may be irritated by public snoring. But is it a crime? A “public nuisance” is indeed a crime. However, there is a specific definition of “public nuisance” in IPC (Indian Penal Code), Sections 268-70. Section 268 is about an act “which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right”. Section 269 is about a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life, while Section 270 is about a malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life.
There is no danger to life consequent to snoring. Section 268 of IPC, mirrored in Section 133 of CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code of 1973) is about physical obstructions or nuisances that impede exercise of a public right. Therefore, snore as much as you want in public. It isn’t a crime against society and the State cannot take action. In modern societies, the State has an exclusive monopoly on the use of force. Did fellow passengers have a right to forcibly keep the offending passenger awake? No, they did not and GRP (Government Railway Police) did ask the offending passenger whether he wished to file a complaint against passengers who kept him awake. He chose not to. There was another recent incident, too, this time, on a bus and not on a train. A bus was on its way from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi. A man who boarded it wore smelly socks. Once he was comfortable, he took off his shoes and socks and fellow passengers refused to tolerate the stench. Like the fellow passengers on the train, they could possibly have forced the offending passenger to put his socks and shoes on again. Instead, after an argument, they insisted the bus be driven to a police station (in Una). The criminal action, so to speak, was left to the State and the offending passenger was booked under the “public nuisance” provisions of IPC. It is unlikely that any court will accept smelly socks as a danger to life. Hence, in all probability, the FIR will not result in a charge-sheet.Does that mean a citizen has no powers when he/she is witness to a crime? Not quite. In common with many other countries, India has provision of citizen’s arrest in CrPC, a provision that non-lawyers and non-judges are often unaware of. Section 43(1) states, “Any private person may arrest or cause to be arrested any person who in his presence commits a non-bailable and cognizable offence, or any proclaimed offender, and, without unnecessary delay, shall make over or cause to be made over any person so arrested to a police officer, or, in the absence of a police officer, take such person or cause him to be taken in custody to the nearest police station.” Other than proclaimed offenders, this only applies to non-bailable and cognizable offences. This entire section was lifted from Section 59 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898. (I haven’t found a similar provision in Criminal Procedure Code, 1861.) There were historical reasons why countries had citizen’s arrest clauses—not enough sheriffs, not enough police officers, not enough magistrates, granting village watchmen powers. There are several reports on reforming criminal justice in India. As far as I can discern, none of them mentioned something as insignificant as Section 43(1).
There haven’t been too many instances, post-Independence, of Section 43(1) having been invoked (as opposed to only informing police). Does a citizen know what offences are non-bailable and cognizable? It’s not as if there have been no instances though. I found two, oddly, both from Kerala. In 1997, in Koduvally, some local people “arrested” criminals making brown sugar. In 2006, near Guruvayoor, a deputy tahsildar from the Thrissur Tax Assessment Department demanded a bribe from Gayathri Lodge. Citizens, with local TV channels also jumping in, “arrested” the corrupt deputy tahsildar. In passing, in both cases, courts did find the arrests to be legal. In other countries, there are many more instances of citizen’s arrest having been made. However, in such countries, citizens making arrests have also exposed themselves to law suits—civil damages (including defamation) and also criminal liability. Devising an immunity template is easier said than done. It seems to me something like Section 43(1) is really a legacy and should be junked. There may be positives, but the possible negative fall-out to citizens will make them disinterested.