Failure and non-supply of legible/translated copies of documents despite a request renders the order of detention illegal and bad in law; Delhi High Court sets aside the COFEPOSA detention order

Delhi High Court


Delhi High Court: The division bench of Siddharth Mridul and Amit Sharma, JJ., decided the criminal writ petition by granting the prayer of the detenu to set aside the detention order passed in accordance with the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974 (‘COFEPOSA’), setting him at liberty forthwith since the Detaining Authority did not provide the detenu with translated and legible documents consisting of grounds for his detention.

Factual Matrix of the case:

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Delhi Zonal Unit (‘DRI’) has received an intelligence about a consortium consisting of certain Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Korean nationals, in collaboration with some Indian individuals involved in illicit import of foreign origin gold into India via air cargo, by concealing the foreign origin gold in the transformers of electroplating/re-working machines.

In 2021, several prohibited gold items were found at Delhi Cargo Services Centre, Air Cargo Complex, IGI Airport, New Delhi, imported by Healthy Future Leaders Private Limited which were accordingly seized under S. 110 of the Customs Act, 1962. After melting the gold, the same was supplied to various customers including the detenu.

The detenu in his statement under S. 108 of the Customs Act admitted to his involvement in the illicit purchase, possession, carrying, transporting and in sale/disposal of the foreign origin gold trafficked into India by the abovementioned cartel who was accordingly arrested in November 2021.

Legal Trajectory

However, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Patiala House Court granted bail to the detenu in December 2021 which was challenged by the DRI in Delhi High Court which is pending till date.

Consequently, in February 2022, the Detaining Authority (Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, COFEPOSA Wing) passed the subject impugned order wherein the detenu had submitted his representation before the Detaining Authority as well as before the Special Secretary-cum-Director General of Central Economic Intelligence Bureau to revoke the detention orders. However, his submission was rejected by the Detaining Authority which the detenu went on to challenge before the COFEPOSA Advisory Board (‘Advisory Board’). The Advisory Board opined that there existed sufficient grounds for his detention which was ultimately confirmed by the Central Government as well.


  1. Whether the supply of illegible Relied Upon Documents (‘RUDs’) vitiates the ‘subjective satisfaction’ of the Detaining Authority thereby rendering the impugned detention order invalid?

    (Decided in favour of the detenu and against the respondents)

  2. Whether the detenu’s constitutionally secured right of making an effective representation has been jeopardised, by the non-supply of relevant documents, in a language which the detenu understands; thereby rendering the order of detention illegal and bad?

    (Decided in favour of the detenu and against the respondents)

Court Analysis and Findings

The Court noted that the grounds of detention were substantially to the effect of investigation conducted by the DRI which established detenu’s continued inclination to indulge in the acts of smuggling in a planned manner resulting into the detriment of the economic security of the country and unless prevented, the detenu would continue to do so. Furthermore, considering the nature and gravity of the offence, it was concluded by the authorities that there was an immediate need to prevent the detenu from smuggling of goods.

The Court reiterated the observations made in Mallada K. Sri Ram v. The State of Telangana, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 424 in which the Supreme Court held that “the nature of the allegations against the detenu are grave. However, the personal liberty of an accused cannot be sacrificed on the altar of preventive detention merely because a person is implicated in a criminal proceeding. The powers of preventive detention are exceptional and even draconian. Tracing their origin to the colonial era, they have been continued with strict constitutional safeguards against abuse. Article 22 of the Constitution was specifically inserted and extensively debated in the Constituent Assembly to ensure that the exceptional powers of preventive detention do not devolve into a draconian and arbitrary exercise of state authority. The case at hand is a clear example of non-application of mind to material circumstances having a bearing on the subjective satisfaction of the detaining authority”

Therefore, the Court stated the provision of S. 3 of COFEPOSA to point out that it is the Detaining Authority with the ultimate power to decide in favour or against the detention order after perusing each and every document in terms of the ‘subjective satisfaction’ of the Detaining Authority.

While considering the scope and ambit of ‘subjective satisfaction’, the Court relied on the decision of three Judge bench in Union of India v. Ankit Ashok Jalan, (2020) 16 SCC 185 which stated that “the court must be conscious that the satisfaction of the Detaining Authority is “subjective” in nature and the court cannot substitute its opinion for the subjective satisfaction of the Detaining Authority and interfere with the order of detention. It does not mean that the subjective satisfaction of the Detaining Authority is immune from judicial reviewability”

Thus, the Court held that the Courts must strike a balance between the liberty of an individual and the needs of the society.

Further, the Court noted that the several RUDs supplied to the detenu which were also on record with the Detaining Authority to arrive at its ‘subjective satisfaction’ were admittedly illegible which amounted to gross violation of Article 14, 21 and 22(5) of the Constitution of India. For that reason, the Court after relying upon State of Manipur v. Buyamayum Abdul Hanan2022 SCC OnLine SC 1455 decided the first issue at hand in favour of the detenu and against the respondent.

With respect to the second issue regarding constitutional mandate for communicating the grounds of detention to a detenu in a language which he understands, the Court noted that the detenu had specifically requested for the supply of translated copies of RUDs as they were in Mandarin language. While relying on Harikisan v. State of MaharashtraAIR 1962 SC 911, the Court held that the contents of the RUDs were never explained to the detenu in a language that the detenu understood and asserted upon the legal necessity of furnishing the grounds of detention in a language the detenu understands.

The Court observed that catena of judgments establishes that it is not necessary for the detenu to even demonstrate that any prejudice had been caused to him while obtaining translated version of the RUDs. Accordingly, the Court decided the second issue in favour of the detenu and against the respondents.

Moreover, the statement made under S. 108 of the Customs Act by the detenu was eventually retracted stating that the same was forcefully taken under threat and coercion by the officers in charge and was in no way a voluntary statement. The Court stated that the Detaining Authority had place a great reliance upon the inculpatory statements, therefore their retraction assumed major relevance and deserved due consideration in the factual background. There was a legal obligation on the authority to have placed the said retraction before the Detaining Authority for its ‘subjective satisfaction’ which was not obliged with.

In conclusion, while setting aside the COFEPOSA detention order, the Court held that the statutory authorities are constitutionally charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the grounds of detention, that are considered whilst forming the ‘subjective satisfaction’, are provided to the detenu by the Detaining Authority to make an effective representation. Therefore, the failure and non-supply of legible/translated copies of all RUDs despite a request renders the order of detention illegal and bad in law; and vitiates the ‘subjective satisfaction’ arrived at by the Detaining Authority.

[Neeraj Varshney v. Ministry of Finance Department of Revenue, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 4562, decided on 22-12-2022]

*Judgment by Justice Siddharth Mridul.

Advocates who appeared in this case:

For the Petitioner- Senior Advocate Tarun Gulati;

Advocate R.P. Singh;

Advocate Shivam Tyagi;

Advocate Priyanka Goel;

Advocate Kumar Sambhav;

For the Respondent- Central Government Standing Counsel Ravi Prakash;

Senior Standing Counsel Satish Aggarwala;

Advocate Mohd. Shahan Ulla;

Advocate Gagan Vaswani.

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