Punjab and Haryana High Court: In a petition filed under Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (‘CrPC’) seeking pre-arrest bail for matter involving offences under Sections 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (‘1956 Act’) and Sections 370 and 120-B of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), Mahabir Singh Sindhu, J. dismissed the petition and also suggested the authorities to frame guidelines for operation of Spa/Massage Centres in the Union Territory of Chandigarh on similar lines as per the guidelines operational in Delhi.
The Court noted that the instant First Information Report (‘FIR’) was registered after receipt of secret information by the DSP and perused the said FIR. The secret information was followed by calling the Women Helpline Team on the spot and conducting raid in the Spa Centre being run by the petitioner having a total of 8 rooms. On checking two rooms having ‘busy’ board hanging outside, a man and a woman were found in objectionable condition having sexual intercourse. 5 more girls were found inside the so called ‘staff room’. In the police raid, 4 staff members and 2 customers were arrested, while all the victims were sent to Nari Niketan with the help of Women Helpline Team. The rescued girls during investigation disclosed that they were brought to Chandigarh from Jalandhar for doing body massage but enticed into prostitution later.
Court’s Analysis of Raid in Spa Centre
The Court pointed out that the said premises was taken on lease by the petitioner on 30-04-2022 with a monthly rent of Rs 2,15,070, and therefore noted that “it could be said that petitioner was not aware of the alleged activities going on inside the premises.” The Court rejected the argument that the search was illegal for no one from locality being associated with the explanation that Women Helpline team was associated at the time of search and confirmed compliance with provisions of Section 15 of 1956 Act by the Special Police Officer. It further highlighted the permission to arrest a female co-accused sought from the Magistrate duly granted on 12-07-2023, who also revealed that the petitioner was running illegal activities while alluring innocent girls.
Keeping note of all of the above, the Court opined that the allegations against the petitioner were serious in nature and held his custodial interrogation necessary for finding out the true facts and modus operandi of all such activities, while details of his mobile phone and bank account were also to be verified by the police. Therefore, the Court dismissed the instant petition for pre-arrest bail, restricting the observations to the bail and not affecting the merits of the case.
The Court threw light on the information that there were a total 71 Spa Centres being run in Chandigarh and 16 cases had been registered since 2018 under the 1956 Act. However, there were no rules/regulations/guidelines for operating such Spa Centres in Chandigarh. The Court hinted towards guidelines for operation of Spa/Massage Centres in Delhi as framed by the Home Department of Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, circulated vide memo dated 18-08-2021.
The Court expressed that “Keeping in view the fact that cases under the Act are growing in Chandigarh; therefore, in order to curb this menace, there would be no harm if the authorities may think about the similar guidelines for the City Beautiful.”
[Nagaraj T v. State of U.T. Chandigarh, 2023 SCC OnLine P&H 1193, decided on 9-08-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Petitioner: Advocate Shakti Mehta;
For State: Public Prosecutor A.M. Punchhi.