[Section 197 CrPC] Police cannot use their uniform as shield against unlawful conduct: Gauhati High Court

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The Gauhati High Court recently observed that the police cannot use their uniform as a shield when any allegation of unlawful conduct at the police station is raised against them [Amarjyoti Gogoi and Ors. vs The State of Assam and Ors.].

The mandate to obtain sanction under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for taking cognisance of offences against police personnel, applies only if the alleged act is reasonably connected to the discharge of official duty, the Court reiterated.

“Only because they are in the police station with their uniform, they cannot take the shield the uniform to protect their unlawful conduct,” the Court made it clear.

In case of an act of policeman or any other public servant not connected with the official duty, there can be no question of sanction, single-judge Justice Rumi Kumari Phukan ruled.

However, if the act alleged against a policeman is reasonably connected to discharge of his official duty, it does not matter, if the policeman has exceeded the scope of his power and/or beyond the four corners of the law, the Court added.

The petitioners in the present case, three policemen, had sought quashing of the case registered against them after a trial court order that took cognisance of offences they were charged with.

The complainant in the matter had alleged that the three policemen had hatched a conspiracy to make him vacate some land. They had illegally detained him in a lock up and threatened him with dire consequences like false cases after which he was forced to sign an agreement, transferring the property.

The trial court had, after the initial hearings, granted them bail but framed charges for trial.

The petitioners then moved the High Court under Section 482 CrPC seeking quashing of the proceedings against them, contending that the sanction under Section 197 CrPC has not been obtained.

The High Court placed reliance on a slew of decisions to hold that criminal misconduct on the part of a public servant cannot be treated as discharge of official duties.

“Supreme Court has unanimously clarified that in the criminal misconduct and misdemeanor on the part of a public servant, not to be treated as an act of discharge of his official duties. The learned trial court in its order has rightly placed reliance upon the decision of Rajib Ranjan and Ors. v. R. Vijaykumar, wherein it has been held that while discharging his official duty if a public servant enters into criminal conspiracy or indulges in criminal misconduct, same cannot be treated as an act of discharge of official duties,” the High Court observed.

The requirement of sanction under Section 197 arises only if the act if connected to the discharge of official duties, the Court emphasised.

In the instant matter, that was not the case, the Court said.

“By no stretch of explanation the purported act of the petitioners will come within the purview of official duty and only because they are in the police station with their uniform, they cannot take the shield [of] the uniform to protect their unlawful conduct,” the Court held.

The counsel for the petitioners, apart from citing the protections under Section 197, had contended the policemen were only discharging their official duties by investigating the claims of the original owner of the land in question.

To this, the Court said the adjudication of the same should be at a civil forum, as the Code of Civil Procedure lays out that the police cannot carry out evictions by way of force.

“The entire episode itself depict a manhandling of police power to secure vested interest,” Justice Phukan observed.

The Court found merit in the arguments by the counsel for the State and the original complainant, that the allegations against the petitioners with the current evidence constitute a prima facie cognisable offence.

The petition was accordingly dismissed.

“The inherent power under Section 482 CrPC though wide, have to be exercised sparingly, carefully and with great caution and only when such exercise is justified by the test specifically laid down under this provision. In the backdrop of the case, rather it would be unjustified to interfere into the lawful proceeding before the court of law,” the Court observed.

Advocate S Borthakur appeared for the petitioners, while Additional Public Prosecutor PS Lahkar appeaed for the State. Advocate R De appeared for the original complainant.

Read Judgment here:

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