TAMIL NADU

High Court orders Rs. 3 lakhs compensation for 'illegal custody'

CHENNAI AUG. 26. Taking a dim view of the illegal detention and torture of suspects in police stations in general, the Madras High Court has directed the Government to pay Rs. 3 lakhs compensation to a person whose arrest was accounted for by police only after a week.

"Police officers, who are the custodians of law and order, should have the greatest respect for the personal liberty of an individual and should stop bizarre acts of lawlessness," observed Justice D. Murugesan, after directing the Home Secretary to pay Rs. 3 lakhs towards damages to one M.A. Meeran for ``depriving his personal liberty and torture in the illegal custody of the Athirampatnam police station between November 29 and December 3, 1994.''

Mr. Meeran was taken into custody by a Sub-Inspector on November 27, 1994, on a complaint by one Tajudeen. However, the arrest was accounted for only on December 3.

His wife and mother, in the meanwhile, sent representations to the Superintendent of Police, the District Collector and the Pattukottai Judicial Magistrate complaining that Mr. Meeran had been kept in illegal custody. A Tamil daily also reported his arrest in its issue dated November 30.

When the matter came up before the Madras High Court, the prosecution denied the allegation of illegal custody, and argued that he was arrested only on December 3 and it was accounted for the same day. As for the injuries, it alleged that Mr. Meeran sustained them when he attempted to escape arrest.

``Disbelieving'' the police version, and citing the pre-arrest formalities laid down by the Supreme Court in the `D.K. Basu Vs State of Bengal' case, Mr. Justice Murugesan said though it was stated that a DSP had probed the issue and submitted a report, there was no material proof for the same. "Strangely, the defence taken by the Government is that the files relating to the enquiry had been destroyed in 1995." Also, relying on the newspaper report, the judge said "normally, courts will not act only on the basis of news reports. However, considering the peculiar circumstances of the case, we have to take note of the report and consider that the arrest was made prior to November 30... The report is further fortified by the telegrams and registered posts sent by the wife of the petitioner. From the available materials, it is seen that Meeran was taken into custody prior to the date and time claimed by the police."

Pointing out that the Supreme Court had held on more than one occasion that courts were entitled to award compensation in cases of infringement of personal liberty, Mr. Justice Murugesan directed the Home Secretary to deposit Rs. 3 lakhs with the Registrar-General of the High Court within two months.

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