25 April 2023 3:21 PM GMT
The Calcutta High Court today ordered the state government to provide Rs. 2 Lakh as compensation, to the family members of an accused (allegedly implicated falsely for offence under the NDPS Act) after finding that certain procedural lapses were committed by the state police while effectuating his arrest. In its order, the Court also noted that the footage of CCTV, installed in the...
The Calcutta High Court today ordered the state government to provide Rs. 2 Lakh as compensation, to the family members of an accused (allegedly implicated falsely for offence under the NDPS Act) after finding that certain procedural lapses were committed by the state police while effectuating his arrest.
In its order, the Court also noted that the footage of CCTV, installed in the police station where the accused was kept at the relevant point of time and which could have been an essential piece of evidence, was destructed.
Terming such compensation to be “a balm on the wound” for the violation of human dignity and for the failure of the police to instil confidence that the investigation was fair, impartial and a quest for the truth, the Bench of Justice Shampa Sarkar said compensation was being awarded to the affected parties for various lapses and for the failure of the State to uphold the dignity and personal liberty of an individual, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.
Further, opining that if the State becomes a lawbreaker, then the writ court should not hesitate to compensate for the laches and the lapses, the Court also stressed upon the need to remind ourselves that the rights of individuals are the citadel of democracy and that every violation would be an attack on civilized society.
The case in brief
Essentially, the Petitioner/mother of the accused (named Vishal) booked under the NDPS Act, moved the High Court with a writ petition accusing the police of subjecting her son to atrocities and abuse of power by the police when he was illegally detained in Titagarh Police Station on March 9, 2022.
The petitioner contended that her son was picked up from the shop, taken to the police station, detained at the police station for the whole of March 9, 2022, and after that, in the early hours of March 10, 2022, shown to be arrested in connection with the NDPS case.
It was specifically submitted in her plea that Vishal was a victim of political vendetta by the ruling dispensation in the state as he had participated in the municipal elections of 2022 as an election agent of his cousin Rakesh Shukla, a candidate backed by the Indian National Congress.
Against the backdrop of these allegations, in her plea, the petitioner sought an independent probe into the matter and a court-monitored investigation of the NDPS case and for seizure and preservation of CCTV footage of the Police Station (March 9 and March 10, 2022), when the accused was allegedly under the illegal custody of the police.
The allegations primarily revolved around depriving the right to dignity and personal liberty and denying a free and fair investigation.
On the other hand, it was the state’s case that on March 9, the accused/alleged victim (Vishal) was arrested by a police officer under Section 151 of CrPC in order to prevent the commission of a cognizable offence as he had threatened a man of consequences if he did not withdraw the case against him (Vishal).
However, it was further submitted that he was released on the same day (though denied by the petitioner) upon acceptance of a bail bond as also a PR Bond and both the bonds were furnished simultaneously. It was further stated that on the next day (March 10, 2022) based on a piece of secret information, Vishal was arrested lawfully with 2.5 KG of codeine mixture after following due process of law.
Against this backdrop, it was argued by the state’s counsel that the accused could not choose the investigating agency and hence, the prayer of the petitioner for the appointment of an independent investigating agency for the investigation of the NDPS case, should not be allowed.
In response to the allegations of the state, the petitioner’s counsel submitted that Vishal had been wrongly incarcerated and had not been released from the police station on March 9, 2022, and hence, he could not have been present with codeine mixture on March 10, 2022, in the wee hours of the morning.
At the outset, the Court inquired from the Commissioner of Police, Barrackpore Commissionerate as to whether the video footage of the alleged incidents at the police station on the relevant dates was available.
In response to the Court’s query, it was submitted that the CCTVs which were functioning in the Police Station at the relevant point in time had a one-month backup capacity and the video recordings were automatically erased/deleted after a month.
The Court found this submission of the Commissioner of Police, Barrackpore Commissionerate to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s order in the case of Paramvir Singh Saini vs Baljit Singh and Ors, reported in (2021), wherein the States and UTs were asked to preserve storage of CCTV camera footage for a period of 18 months or at least one year, as the case may be.
The court further noted that there were several discrepancies in the method and the manner in which the petitioner's son was taken into custody to the purported release of the petitioner's son on March 9, 2022.
The Court said that the CCTV footage, which was not available, could have indicated the accused continued to remain in the police station till March 10, 2022, when the NDPS case was registered against him or had been released but later apprehended in connection with the NDPS case.
Further, regarding the objection raised against Writ Court’s jurisdiction to deal with such cases, the Court said that the writ court can very well enquire as to whether there had been any violation of Vishal’s right to personal liberty, and human dignity, by the overt actions of the police authorities.
“Dignity of the family members is also a guaranteed right. As a sentinel of the constitution, the writ court can enquire into a citizen's complaint of infringement of fundamental rights enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India… awarding compensation in a proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is a remedy available in public law, based on strict liability, for contravention of law and for violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India,” the Court said.
The Court further observed that in the instant case, the police authorities failed to discharge their duty in accordance with the law.
“…disturbing features have been noticed by the court in the process of arrest of Vishal on March 9, 2022, and further arrest on March 10, 2022 for commission of offence under the NDPS Act. There is no evidence of his release apart from the two bonds discussed earlier. There are irregularities in the procedure adopted by the police while arresting and purportedly releasing Vishal on March 9, 2022,” the Court said.
In view of this, finding inconsistencies in the actions taken by the police authorities, the Court concluded that there was substance in the contentions of the petitioner. Further, the Court summarised the lapses involved in this case, thus:-
In view of this, the Court awarded Rs. 2 Lakh compensation to the entire family for the stigma, social embarrassment and indignity suffered by each of them and especially Vishal as also for the destruction of evidence (CCTV footage).
The Court granted liberty to the state agency and the appropriate department to recover the same from the erring police official after an enquiry is made by the Commissioner of Barrackpore Commissionerate, and the responsibility is fixed.
The Court further directed that CCTV cameras should be installed within two months in all police stations and units of the said commiserate with at least one-year backup capacity for the time being.
The Court also ordered that videography of the seizure of commercial quantities of narcotics in all cases should be mandatorily done. The Court, however, refused to accept the prayer to transfer the probe to an independent agency.
The accused was also given the liberty to raise all the points at every stage of the criminal proceeding and avail of other remedies available under the Code of Criminal Procedure, before the competent courts of law.
With this, the plea was disposed of.
For the petitioner: Senior Advocate Pratik Dhar, Advocates Koustav Bagchi, Anirudhya Bhattacharyya, Debayan Ghosh, Priti Kar and Cardina Roy.
For the State: Sr. Standing Counsel Amitesh Banerjee, Advocates Ipsita Banerjee and Suddhadev Adak.
For the CBI: Dy. Solicitor Gen. Billwadal Bhattacharyya, Advocate Kallol Mondal.
Case title - Sunita Shukla vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors [WPA 7882 of 2022]
Case Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 116
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