Pat HC | [Article 21] Torture, either mental or physical, represents worst violations of individual human personality, an outright and premeditated attack on human dignity; Petition allowed against illegal detention

Patna High Court: A Division Bench of Sanjay Karol, CJ. and S. Kumar, J., while allowing the present petition, discussed the issue of unlawful detention and compensation for the same under Article 226, placing reliance on settled legal precedents.

 Background

It is the case of the petitioner that on 29-04-2020, during transportation of milk from one place to another, a milk tanker vehicle was seized in the jurisdiction of Parsa Police Station (Bihar). The tanker was taken to a nearby dairy for milk to be extracted and thereinafter detained at the police station where the detenue was detained in extra-judicial custody. All this was done without lodging of any FIR and/or following the appropriate procedures of recording the detention of the individual or impounding the vehicle, rendering the seizure unlawful and detention illegal. Even till 15-05-2020, the date of filing of this writ petition, the detenue was never presented before the District Magistrate having competent jurisdiction. The present petition is moved against the respondent authorities, so to question the said unlawful detention and further draw the attention of the Court to such practices of gross human rights violation, with special focus on, truck drivers.

 Observations

Illegal Detention and Breach of Fundamental Rights

Considering the submissions made, Court noted, “The facts of the instant case indicate a grim state of affairs where the police officials have acted in contravention and violation of the procedure established by law. The vehicle and detenue were detained and kept in police custody for more than 35 days without either filing of FIR or following any other procedure of arrest prescribed in law, ensuring constitutional protections to all persons… Therefore any detention made by the Police in this case, is completely illegal, unlawful, in contravention of the constitutional and statutory provision and direct violation of detenue’s fundamental rights. This follows from the constitutional protections guaranteed to every person under Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution.”

 Procedure of Arrest required to be followed

Enumerating the provisions of Chapter V, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Court raised a few questions which essentially remains unanswered by the police authorities; “(i) why did the Police not register the FIR immediately when the vehicle driven by the detenue was intercepted by the Dariapur police, especially when the interception was made on account of communication of the alleged accident and fleeing away of the driver? (ii) Why was the vehicle not impounded? (iii) why was the drive not produced before the Court? and (iv) why was no action promptly taken against the officials?” The Court further said that when there is no statement of any person witnessing the occurrence of the accident, then how did the police get to know of such facts?

Reliance was also placed on, D.K. Basu v. State of W.B., (1997) 1 SCC 416; wherein the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines which must be followed by every police officer conducting arrest. To highlight the same;

  • The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations.
  • The police officer carrying out the arrest of the arrestee shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may be either a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. It shall also be counter signed by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.
  • A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation center or other lock-up, shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed, as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee.
  • The time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the Police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the District or town through the Legal Aid Organisation in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.
  • The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.
  • An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person which shall also disclose the name of the next friend of the person who has been informed of the arrest and the names and particulars of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.
  • The “Inspection Memo” must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer effecting the arrest and its copy provided to the arrestee.
  • The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by Director, Health Services of the concerned State or Union Territory.
  • Copies of all the documents including the memo of arrest, referred to above, should be sent to the illaqa Magistrate for his record.
  • The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.
  • A police control room should be provided at all district and state headquarters, where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the officer causing the arrest, within 12 hours of effecting the arrest and at the police control room it should be displayed on a conspicuous notice board.

Furthermore, the Court referred Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P., (1994) 4 SCC 260, Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P., (2014) 2 SCC 1, Gangaram v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 623, Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273.

Detention of vehicle without FIR or Seizure Memo, Power and procedure for detaining vehicles

With respect to detention of vehicle, the Court referred Section 102, Section 451, Section 457 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Section 207 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Also, it placed on record the findings of Supreme Court in Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat, (2002) 10 SCC 283, wherein the Court held that the power of disposing of the property seized by police officers should be exercised expeditiously and judiciously, for serving the purpose, namely; (i)Owner of the article would not suffer because of its remaining unused or by its misappropriation (ii)The Court or the Police would not be required to keep the article in safe custody (iii)If the proper panchanama before handing over possession of an article is prepared, it can be used in evidence instead of its production before the Court, in a trial. If necessary, evidence could also be recorded describing the nature of the property in detail and (iv) This jurisdiction of the Court to record evidence should be exercised promptly so that there may not be further chance of tampering with the articles.

The Court conclusively remarked, “The vehicle seized, although without the registration of search memo or an F.I.R under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is liable to be disposed of as per the provision under section 451 and 457 of the Code. Owing to the same, by our order dated 20th July, 2020, the petitioner was granted liberty to file a petition for provisional release of the vehicle, that is, Milk Tanker.”

Right to Compensation under Articles 32 & 226 of the Constitution of India for Violation of Fundamental Rights

Delving upon the aforementioned issue, the Court identified a catena of judgments including, Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar, (1983) 4 SCC 141, wherein the petitioner was illegally detained for over fourteen years despite his acquittal in a full- dressed trial, the Supreme Court upheld the grant of compensation for illegal detention under a petition of Habeas Corpus, “taking into consideration the grave harm done”. Bhim Singh v. State of J&K, 1984 Supp SCC 504, further reinstated the right of compensation for illegal detention. Similarly, In Nilabati Behara v. State of Orissa, (1993) 2 SCC 746, petitioner’s son was kept in unlawful police custody and his dead body found near the railway tracks. Apparently, he died as a result of the multiple injuries inflicted to him while being in police custody. The Court upheld the grant of compensation to the mother of the deceased for contravention of his fundamental right under Article 21. It further upheld that the enforcement of the constitutional right and grant of redress embraces award of compensation as part of the legal consequences of its contravention.

T.C. Pathak v. State of U.P., (1995) 6 SCC 357, bears close connection with the facts of the present case as the detainee herein was kept in police custody for days without any registered FIR or informing any ground of arrest against him. The father filed a writ of Habeas Corpus for production of his son, forcibly taken away from the shop. Supreme Court held that even though the detainee was released and the prayer in Habeas Corpus petition did not survive, nevertheless, on account of denial of the right of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21, the detainee deserved to be compensated. Dhananjay Sharma v. State of Haryana, (1995) 3 SCC 757, was further cited by the Court, to put forth the effect of illegal detention upon the alleged police officials. Supreme Court, in this case, directed initiation of contempt proceedings and perjury cases against the police officials who were, by way of affidavits to the Court, acting to cover up their acts of illegal detention of the petitioners.

Upon balancing the facts and circumstances of the given case, the Court observed, “The instant case is one that is fit for hefty compensation to be levied on the State for violation of the fundamental right to life and liberty by way of illegal detention of Jitendra Kumar @ Sanjay Kumar, the detenue.”

Court conclusively summarized the law expounded by judicial pronouncements under the following principles

LIBERTY

“Right under Article 21 cannot be kept in abeyance for convicts, undertrials and prisoners. Allowing Police to violate fundamental rights of such persons would amount to anarchy and lawlessness, which cannot be permitted in a civilized society.”

BALANCE BETWEEN NATIONAL SECURITY AND INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY

“Article 21 is of great importance because it enshrines the fundamental right to individual liberty, but at the same time a balance has to be struck between the right to individual liberty and the interest of society. No right can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions can be placed on them.”

ARREST

“Violation of fundamental rights under Article 21 and 22(2) – Police officers who are custodians of law and order should have greatest respect for the personal liberty of citizens and should not become depredators of civil liberties. Their duty is to protect and not to abduct.” 

DUTY AND POWER TO REGISTER F.I.R.

“While prompt registration of FIR is mandatory, checks and balances on power of Police are equally important. Power of arrest or of investigation is not mechanical. It requires application of mind in the manner provided. Existence of power and its exercise are different. Delicate balance has to be maintained between the interest of society and liberty of an individual.”

TORTURE/CUSTODIAL DETENTION AND/OR DEATH

“Torture involves not only physical suffering but also mental agony. It is violation of human dignity and destructive of human personality under Articles 21, 22 and 32 – Custodial Violence – Torture/rape, death in police custody/lock-up infringes Article 21 as well as basic human rights. State terrorism is no answer to terrorism.” 

HABEAS CORPUS JURISDICTION/ RIGHT TO GRANT COMPENSATION

“The refusal of this Court to pass an order of compensation in favour of the petitioner will be doing mere lip service to his fundamental right to liberty which the State Government has so grossly violated. Article 21 which guarantees the right to life and liberty will be denuded of its significant content if the power of this Court were limited to passing orders of release from illegal detention.”

 BALANCE TO BE MAINTAINED WHILE GRANTING RELIEF OF BAIL TO THE ACCUSED

“The law of arrest is one of balancing individual rights, liberties and privileges, on the one hand, and individual duties, obligations and responsibilities on the other; of weighing and balancing the rights, liberties and privileges of the single individual and those of individuals collectively; of simply deciding what is wanted and where to put the weight and the emphasis; of deciding which comes first — the criminal or society, the law violator or the law abider.”

 RIGHT OF ACCUSED

“(i) An arrested person has a right to know of his entitlement of supply of information of detention to friend, relative or other person told that he has been arrested and where he is being detained (ii) Period of detention under section 151 Cr. P.C. cannot exceed 24 hours and in absence of anything else, after expiry of that period the detainee must be released (iii) An entry shall be required to be made in the diary as to who was informed of the arrest. These protections from power must be held to flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) and enforced strictly. (iv) Fair and Independent investigation is crucial to preservation of rule of law and is the ultimate analysis of liberty itself.”

 REPUTATION

“Since arrest and detention can cause irreparable damage to a person’s reputation a police officer must be guided and act according to principles laid down by the Courts when deciding whether to make an arrest or not.”

 SENSITIZING POLICE

“Police need to be trained and sensitized all of rights of citizens and maintaining law and order in a civilized manner.”

 PROCEEDINGS AGAINST POLICE OFFICIAL

“Mandatory Requirements as sated in D.K. Basu case, to be followed by police personnel while arresting or detaining a person are in addition to constitutional and statutory safeguards. Non-compliance with the same would make official liable for departmental action.”

 ROLE AND PROBLEMS OF TRUCK DRIVERS

“The drivers of commercial vehicles, especially the Truck Drivers, in India occupy a very unique and vital place in the immense Transportation sector which serves as the backbone of the Indian Economy. The road transport sector contributes almost 85-90% of passenger traffic 60-65% of freight traffic. Drivers of commercial vehicles are uniquely tasked with the supply of nearly all goods required for daily sustenance across the whole nation. Their life is defined by great hardship and sacrifice. Some of the issues faced by truck drivers can be highlighted as follows: a) Lack of guidelines and regulations regarding the working hours and payment who suffer from unstable and poor personal relationships due to the high-pressure job requirements b) Lack of proper facilities of hygiene, rest and proper food c) pressures of the job, leads to various physical and mental health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. There is an immediate need to improve the conditions of truck drivers in the State of Bihar as well as across the country. It is apparent that they are invaluable to the movement of the Economy and face widespread discrimination and constant hardships. The State ought to consider constituting a body to address these issues. There is an immediate need to address the human rights violations faced by them.”

 Decision

While allowing the present petition, the Court issued necessary directions to the respondent authorities, including, payment of compensation to the tune of Rs 5,00,000 for the violation of the petitioner’s Fundamental Right under Article 21.[Sumit Kumar v. State of Bihar, 2020 SCC OnLine Pat 2700, decided on 22-12-2020]


Sakshi Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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