The Kerala High Court on Wednesday directed the State government to pay ₹1.5 lakh compensation to an 8-year-old Dalit girl, one Devipriya, who moved the court after she was allegedly publicly humiliated by a police officer who falsely accused her of stealing a mobile.
Single-judge Justice Devan Ramachandran also directed the Kerala Government to pay ₹25,000 as costs to the girl for the court proceedings within a period of 1 month.
The Court directed the competent police authorities to initiate disciplinary action against the police officer but it declined to order her removal from the force considering the fact that the officer herself is a mother to three young children and is in dire financial circumstances.
“I therefore, cannot, as a routine, direct any action to remove her from employment or such other as what is important for the petitioner is not an eye-for-an-eye as the lex talionis principles go but that she must obtain closure to the trauma she unfortunately had to go through. The apology placed on record by the police officer certainly goes some way in this direction though I am aware that the petitioner and her father have decided not to accept it and continue with their legal remedy against said officer,” the Court said.
Justice Ramachandran also observed the entire situation could have been avoided if the police officer had merely acted responsibly and with empathy.
“I Pink Police certainly is a revolutionary concept intended for the support and amelioration of women and children and had the police officer been completely aware of this and the responsibility that she carries of being a member of such a force, she would certainly not have acted in the manner she had with little Devipriya. I can only rue that she did not remember the potential consequences of her conduct with Devipriya which could have certainly been avoided by hugging her or putting her arm around her at the time and saying a word as simple as “sorry”!”
The minor petitioner, one Devipriya, approached the Court seeking action against the police officer and compensation for the mental trauma caused to her, as had been attested to by a doctor.
Advocate AK Preetha, representing the petitioner, pressed for monetary compensation under constitutional torts.
However, during the previous hearing, Additional Public Prosecutor P Narayanan submitted an argument note stating that a public law remedy can only be availed when the facts are undisputed and there is an undeniable finding of violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. That is not so in this case, he said.
The Court expressed its exasperation with the State’s objection in granting compensation especially as it noted that the police officer herself had submitted an affidavit with an unequivocal apology which aligned with the version of events as narrated by the young girl.
The Court referred to the judgement of the Supreme Court in Nilabati Behera v. State Of Orissa in which it was held unequivocally that compensation under public law is an acknowledged remedy, and noted that this salutary principle had stood the march of time. The Judge further noted that the top court had granted a hefty compensation amounting to Rs. 1 crore to Nambi Narayan on the very same principle.
While the Court observed that the petitioner had sought a sum of ₹50 lakh as compensation, it opined that the smaller sum decided on by it would be commensurate in this situation.
“The trauma suffered by little Devipriya is immeasurable but when it is estimated in monetary terms this court will have to keep in mind certain basic parameters and I am therefore of the view that the afore amount would subserve justice substantially, if not fully,” the Court stated.
Further, the Court left open all contentions of the petitioner so that she or her father can seek a larger compensation through civil law remedies.
Devipriya moved the Court seeking directions to the State to take stringent action against the police officer, later identified as one Rejitha, who had allegedly humiliated her by levelling false accusations of theft.
The incident occurred when the girl and her father were watching the movement of a huge cargo truck on road that was carrying equipment to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Thiruvananthapuram. This had attracted a huge crowd which led to the deployment of police officers, including a Pink-Patrol squad for crowd control.
As they stood watching, the accused lady police officer allegedly ran towards the father-daughter duo and accused the girl of stealing her mobile phone which drew a crowd around them as well.
According to the petitioners, the police officer used derogatory language and intimidated and threatened them, following which the girl was left traumatised, and required counselling.
The mobile phone was later found in the vehicle of the officer but the entire event was filmed by an onlooker and went viral on social media.
The father of the girl had approached the State Police Chief seeking action against the police officer but to no avail. They then moved the Kerala High Court by way of the instant petition.