The Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has held that a petition in the nature of habeas corpus is not maintainable in cases where the detention is made for protection of witnesses, as envisaged under the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018.
Thus while dismissing the petition, the bench of Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal and Justice S. C. Sharma held,
"merely because, the petition in the nature of habeas corpus has been filed, this Court does not find any reason to allow the writ petition. No writ of habeas corpus, in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, can be issued especially when there is no illegal detention and in fact the witnesses have been provided protection and care by the State."
The 67 women and 7 children in the case were allegedly forced to indulge in sexual activities at a brothel, functional under the guise of a bar and restaurant. These women were brought from Bengal, Assam and adjoining places including Bangladesh through agents.
The authorities had raided the brothel and rescued the women and children who willingly became witnesses and gave statements under Section 164 of CrPC. Thus they were then sent to shelter homes for safekeeping, under the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018.
Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 provides for protection of witnesses based on the threat assessment and protection measures inter alia include protection/change of identity of witnesses, their relocation, installation of security devices at the residence of witnesses, usage of specially designed Court rooms, etc.
The present petition was allegedly filed by the aforementioned agents, claiming themselves to be husbands / relatives of the detenu women.
Refusing to entertain the same, the court observed that where detention was aimed at protecting a person, the petition for habeas corpus will not be maintainable. It said,
"it is not a case for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The rescued women are prime witnesses in respect of Crime No.496/2019 and they are having a threat of life. The safety of women is of paramount importance to this Court, especially when, they are women of very young age and who have been subjected to torture and all kind of sexual crimes."
It was affirmed that the women and minor children rescued by the police were safe in a shelter home, which was having all kind of facilities.
The court went on to affirm the legitimacy of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 in the following words,
"The aim and object of the Scheme is to ensure that investigation, prosecution and trial of criminal case is not prejudiced because the witnesses are intimidated or frightened to give evidence without protection from violent or other criminal recrimination. It aims to promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who are involved directly or indirectly in providing assistance to criminal law enforcement agencies and overall administration of Justice. Witnesses need to be given the confidence to come forward to assist law enforcement and Judicial Authorities with full assurance of safety. It is aimed to identify series of measures that may be adopted to safeguard witnesses and their family members from intimidation and threats against their lies, reputation and property."
Reliance was placed on Mahender Chawla v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 2679, whereby the Supreme Court had also approved the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018.
Case Title: Gautam Das & Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors.
Case No.: W.P. No.26319/2019
Quorum: Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal and Justice S. C. Sharma
Appearance: Advocate Dr. Manohar Dalal (for Petitioners); AAG Ravindra Singh Chhabra (for Respondent-State
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