No preventive detention on ground of a possible apprehension of breach of law and order; Supreme Court explains true import of ‘public order’

Supreme Court: In a case where the detenu was accused of committing a series of criminal offences from October, 2017 to December, 2019 such as cheating in the guise of providing good profit to people by investing their money in stock market and collecting huge amounts to the tune of more than Rs. 50 lakhs, the bench of RF Nariman and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ quashed the detention and held that in such a case,

“… at the highest, a possible apprehension of breach of law and order can be said to be made out if it is apprehended that the Detenu, if set free, will continue to cheat gullible persons. This may be a good ground to appeal against the bail orders granted and/or to cancel bail but certainly cannot provide the springboard to move under a preventive detention statute.”

The case that revolved around Section 3(2) of the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, 1986[1], led to a wider discussion on the true import of “public order” and the Court held that a possible apprehension of breach of law and order cannot be a ground to move under a preventive detention statute.

The Court explained,

“When a person is preventively detained, it is Article 21 and 22 that are attracted and not Article 19. Further, preventive detention must fall within the four corners of Article 21 read with Article 22 and the statute in question. To therefore argue that a liberal meaning must be given to the expression ‘public order’ in the context of a preventive detention statute is wholly inapposite and incorrect. On the contrary, considering that preventive detention is a necessary evil only to prevent public disorder, the Court must ensure that the facts brought before it directly and inevitably lead to a harm, danger or alarm or feeling of insecurity among the general public or any section thereof at large.”

Public order is defined in the Explanation to Section 2(a) of the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act to be a harm, danger or alarm or a feeling of insecurity among the general public or any section thereof or a grave widespread danger to life or public health.

Explaining that the expressions ‘law and order’, ‘public order’, and ‘security of state’ are different from one another, the Court said that,

“Mere contravention of law such as indulging in cheating or criminal breach of trust certainly affects ‘law and order’ but before it can be said to affect ‘public order’, it must affect the community or the public at large.”

Further, while it cannot seriously be disputed that the Detenu may be a “white collar offender” as defined under Section 2(x) of the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, yet a Preventive Detention Order can only be passed if his activities adversely affect or are likely to adversely affect the maintenance of public order.

In the case at hand, what was alleged in the five FIRs pertained to the realm of ‘law and order’ in that various acts of cheating are ascribed to the Detenu which are punishable under the three sections of the Penal Code set out in the five FIRs. A close reading of the Detention Order showed that the reason for the said Order is not any apprehension of widespread public harm, danger or alarm but is only because the Detenu was successful in obtaining anticipatory bail/bail from the Courts in each of the five FIRs. In such circumstances, the Court held that,

“If a person is granted anticipatory bail/bail wrongly, there are well-known remedies in the ordinary law to take care of the situation. The State can always appeal against the bail order granted and/or apply for cancellation of bail. The mere successful obtaining of anticipatory bail/bail orders being the real ground for detaining the Detenu, there can be no doubt that the harm, danger or alarm or feeling of security among the general public spoken of in Section 2(a) of the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act is make believe and totally absent in the facts of the present case.”

[Banka Sneha Sheela v. State of Telangana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 530, decided on 02.08.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice RF Nariman

Know Thy Judge| Justice Rohinton F. Nariman

For petitioner: Advocate Gaurav Agarwal

For State: Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar


[1] Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Boot-leggers, Dacoits, Drug-Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders Land-Grabbers, Spurious Seed Offenders, Insecticide Offenders, Fertiliser Offenders, Food Adulteration Offenders, Fake Document Offenders, Scheduled Commodities Offenders, Forest Offenders, Gaming Offenders, Sexual 1 Offenders, Explosive Substances Offenders, Arms Offenders, Cyber Crime Offenders and White Collar or Financial Offenders Act, 1986

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  • Thanks for sharing the more information about how tNo preventive detention on ground of a possible apprehension of breach of law and order; Supreme Court explains true import of ‘public order’.

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