Preventive detention to be used only in exceptional circumstances, says Supreme Court

It cannot be employed to counter ordinary law and order problems, says top court

July 04, 2022 09:38 pm | Updated July 05, 2022 11:55 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court of India. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The Supreme Court has held in an order that preventive detention cannot be used to counter ordinary law and order situations. It is an “exceptional power” of the State which affects the personal liberty of the individual and has to be employed sparingly, the court said.

The powers to be exercised under the preventive detention law are exceptional powers which have been given to the government for its exercise in an exceptional situation as it strikes hard on the freedom and liberty of an individual, and thus cannot be exercised in a routine manner, the court observed.

The Vacation Bench, led by Justice C.T. Ravikumar, was hearing an appeal filed by a chain-snatcher who was held under preventive detention on the grounds that he was a menace to “public order” as his crimes had caused fear and panic among women. There are over 30 cases of chain snatching against the man, but the police have acted on only four of them.

The court distinguished between law and order situations and public disorder. Preventive detention may apply in the latter but never for the former situation, it said.

“Every breach of the peace does not lead to public disorder. When two drunks quarrel and fight there is disorder but not public disorder. They can be dealt with under the powers to maintain law and order but cannot be detained on the grounds that they were disturbing public order. Suppose that the two fighters were of rival communities and one of them tried to raise communal passions. The problem is still one of law and order but it raises the apprehension of public disorder,” the court elaborated.

The Bench ordered the man to be released immediately.

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