The Supreme Court, coming down heavily on Chhattisgarh police officers for custodial torture of an Ayurvedic doctor in 1992, directed the State government to pay him Rs. 5 lakh as compensation for the mental agony and humiliation he suffered. It is to be recovered from the erring officers in equal proportion.

Allowing an appeal from Mehmood Nayyar Azam, on whom certain cases were slapped in September 1992, a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said: “There is no shadow of doubt that any treatment meted [out] to an accused while he is in custody which causes humiliation and mental trauma corrodes the concept of human dignity.”

The Bench said the appellant was arrested for an alleged offence under the Indian Penal Code, and the Electricity Act, 2003; second, while the magistrate ordered judicial remand, Mr. Azam, instead of being taken to jail the next day, was brought to the police station; third, self-humiliating words were written on a placard and he was asked to hold it and photographs were taken; fourth, the photographs were circulated among the general public and were also filed by one of the respondents in a revenue proceeding; and five, the Chhattisgarh High Court, in categorical terms, found that the appellant was harassed.

Writing the judgment, Justice Misra said: “It is the sacrosanct duty of the police authorities to remember that a citizen while in custody is not denuded of his fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The restrictions imposed have the sanction of law by which his enjoyment of fundamental right is curtailed but his basic human rights are not crippled so that the police officers can treat him in an inhuman manner.”

The Bench said: “There are some megalomaniac officers who conceive the perverse notion that they are the ‘Law’ forgetting that law is the science of what is good and just and, in [the] very nature of things, protective of a civilised society.”

On the High Court rejecting Mr. Azam’s plea and asking him to make a representation to the government, the Bench said: “This is not only asking a man to prefer an appeal from Caesar to Caesar’s wife but it also compels him like a cursed Sisyphus to carry the stone to the top of the mountain wherefrom the stone rolls down and he is obliged to repeatedly perform that futile exercise.”

The Bench said: “It is luculent that the appellant had undergone mental torture at the hands of insensible police officials. He might have agitated to ameliorate the cause of the poor and the downtrodden, but the social humiliation that has been meted [out] to him is quite capable of destroying the heart of his philosophy.”