The Telangana HC has reiterated that once a substantially long period has lapsed between involvements of a person in different criminal cases, a rowdy sheet maintained by the Police classifying him as a habitual offender cannot survive.
In the facts of the case, the Petitioner, Mir Saber Ali, had approached the high court, seeking directions to the effect that the action of the concerned authorities in not closing the rowdy sheet (criminal record) opened against him under A.P. Police Manual Standing Order 601 was illegal, arbitrary, unjust and violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. As a corollary he sought directions to the respondent authorities to close the rowdy sheet against him.
Considerably, 19 criminal cases had been registered against him, the last one being registered in the year 2014; and no fresh crimes were registered against him thereafter.
In these circumstances, Justice P. Keshava Rao assessed various precedents which tapered down the criteria for opening of a rowdy sheet.
In Vijay Narain Singh v. State Of Bihar, AIR 1984 SC 1334, a Special Bench of the Supreme Court had held that "the expression 'habitually' would mean 'repeatedly' or 'persistently' implying a thread of continuity, stringing together similar repetitive acts…"
Mounting upon this proposition, a division bench of the A. P. High Court in Puttagunta Pasi v. Commissioner of Police, Vijayawada, 1998 (3) ALT 55 (D.B.), cautioned against opening of rowdy sheets in a casual and mechanical manner. It clarified therein that mere figuring as an accused in two crimes would not be sufficient to categorize a person as a 'habitual offender'.
In 1999, in Mohammed Quadeer v. Commissioner Of Police, Hyd., 1999 (3) ALD 60, the high court opined that opening of a rowdy sheet against a person had serious ramifications on the reputation of a person. Therefore the court observed that the law which authorizes the police to open rowdy sheets and exercise surveillance would have to be construed strictly.
Since in the present case, no criminal case had been registered against the Petitioner for last five years, Justice Rao referred to the decision in Pulla Bhaskar v. Superintendent Of Police, Warangal, 1999 (5) ALD 155, whereby it was categorically stated that,
"if the acts or omissions in question are not of the same kind or even if they are of the same kind when they are committed with a long interval of time between them they cannot be treated as habitual o nes".
Similarly, in Sunkara Satyanarayana v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2000 (1) ALD (Crl.) 117 (AP), the court expressed its concern over maintenance of rowdy sheets for considerably long periods of time and held that the same would not only violate the right of privacy of an individual but also other fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution.
In view thereof, Justice Rao held that once there is a long interval between involvements in different criminal cases, such a person cannot be termed a 'habitual offender' within the meaning of Standing Order 601.
"In the light of the above stated settled proposition of law, it is clear that the opening and continuation of a rowdy sheet in the name of the petitioner on the basis of his involvement in criminal case is not sufficient to term him as habitual offender under Clause-A of Order 601 of the Police Control Order. It is an admitted fact that after 2014 no fresh crimes are registered against the petitioner. In spite of the same, the respondents appear to have continued the rowdy sheet in his name.
… this Court holds that opening of rowdy sheet in the name of the petitioner and continuance of the same thereafter, is in violation of the life and liberty as guaranteed to the petitioner under the provisions of the Constitution of India as well as contrary to the law laid down by this Court and the Apex Court…," he held.
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