The police action of arresting a music teacher and illegally detaining him for a bailable offence smacks of police high-handedness and insensitivity, the Bombay High Court said on Friday while directing the Maharashtra government to pay ₹ 2 lakh in compensation to the man. A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Gauri Godse passed the order on a petition filed by Neelam Sampat alleging that the police had illegally detained her husband Nitin Sampat and that he was arrested although the charges against him were bailable.
“This is a case, where there is a gross violation of Nitin’s right guaranteed to him under Article 21; his right to be released on bail in bailable offences; and a clear violation of Supreme Court judgments that say that arrest in cases should be made only when it is absolutely warranted,” the bench said.
“The facts as narrated in the case smack of police high-handedness. It smacks of their insensitivity. It reveals their lack of knowledge of legal provisions. This action of the police has resulted in unjustified trauma – physical, emotional and mental to the petitioner’s husband – Nitin,” the court said in its order.
The court further said though the plea has not sought compensation, it was of the opinion that compensation ought to be awarded not only for violation of law but also for violation of the man’s fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to live with dignity).
“The grave injustice caused to the petitioner’s husband – Nitin, no doubt, cannot be compensated by money alone, however, granting some compensation and directing some action to be taken against the errant officers, would offer some solace/balm to the wounds, which the petitioner’s husband and his family has suffered,” the court said.
According to the plea, the Tardeo police arrested Mr Nitin on charges of sections 354A (sexual harassment) and 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code on July 17. The complainant in the case had alleged that Nitin had spoken to her indecently when she raised the issue of increased fees for music classes.
The man’s advocate was ready to furnish bail, but the police refused to release him and sent him to the lock-up where he was allegedly stripped and made to spend the night. He was released the next day.
Mr Nitin’s wife in her plea said he was a music teacher with an unblemished record and that his illegal detention and torture while in custody has caused him immense trauma.
The bench in its order said the rights of individuals must be recognised by the instrumentalities of the State and that any abuse or misuse of power should attract consequences.
“Hence, in the peculiar facts, the State must repair the damage done to the petitioner’s husband’s right, by its officers. Of course, it is for the State to take recourse against those officers responsible for the said violation,” it said.
The bench said as a constitutional court, it cannot be oblivious to the gross abuse of law.
The bench in its order noted that the police had issued the man a notice under section 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which was complied with and the man had appeared before the police for questioning on several occasions.
During earlier hearings of the plea in the court, the police had tendered an apology and said the arrest was an inadvertent mistake on their part. The police said an inquiry has been initiated and the errant officials found guilty of dereliction of duty would be punished.
The bench said Mr Nitin was illegally detained by the police even though the offences with which he was charged were bailable.
“Nitin was not only detained by the police of the Tardeo police station for bailable offences but was sent to Saat Rasta lock-up and made to stay there the entire night, despite the offences being bailable and despite offering to give bail,” the court said.
It added that Mr Nitin was asked to strip and made to sit in the lock-up with other criminals and the CCTV footage corroborates this.
The court ordered that the compensation amount be paid to the man within six weeks.
It also directed the Mumbai police commissioner to appoint a deputy commissioner of police to conduct an inquiry into the incident, after which the compensation amount shall be recovered from the salary of officials found responsible for the illegal detention.
The bench also directed for a copy of its order to be sent to the Director General of Police of Maharashtra and Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, to enable them to issue guidelines or directions to police stations on the issue.