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State of Maharashtra v. Ravikant S. Patil
: The Inspector is Absolved

by Raju Ramachandran

Cite as : (1991) 3 SCC (Jour) 8

By now the position is well settled that in given cases, violation of Article 21 of the Constitution would result in an order for payment of compensation to the aggrieved party. Who is to pay the compensation, however, is not fully clear. A recent decision of the Court sets the clock back a little.

State of Maharashtra v. Ravikant S. Patil1 was a case of illegal handcuffing and parading. Patil was an undertrial prisoner suspected to be involved in a murder case. He was arrested in Karnataka and was taken to Solapur in the early hours of August 17, 1989. A local newspaper carried a news item to the effect that Patil would be taken in a procession from Faujdar Chavadi Police Station through the main squares of the city for the purpose of investigation. On the same day, he was handcuffed, both his arms were tied with a rope and he was taken through the streets. These facts were never disputed. Patil filed a writ petition seeking censure of the police officers concerned (who were made parties) and damages. The Division Bench of the Bombay High Court allowed the writ petition holding that handcuffing, tying of hands and parading of Patil were unwarranted and that Article 21 had been violated. The High Court directed that Shri Prakash Chavan, Inspector of Police, who was responsible for this, should pay an amount of Rs 10,000 by way of compensation. The High Court also directed that the fact that he had been found guilty of violation of the fundamental rights of an undertrial prisoner under Article 21 of the Constitution should be entered in his service record.

The State appealed to the Supreme Court along with the concerned official. The Court upheld the judgment of the High Court with regard to violation of Article 21, and also upheld the order directing payment of compensation. The Court however held that the Inspector of Police could not be made personally liable. The Court observed "He has acted only as an official and even assuming that he has exceeded his limits and thus erred in taking the undertrial prisoner handcuffed, still we do not think that he can be made personally liable". With regard to the entry in the service record, the Court held that the same could not be done without giving an opportunity of being heard to the official. The Court observed that the concerned authorities could, if they thought it necessary, hold an enquiry and then decide whether any further action was to be taken against him.

On the question of personal liability, the Court's decision is disappointing. If an official is responsible for committing an unconstitutional act, there is no reason why he should not be made personally liable. Lawlessness by the police in our country is only too well known. If police officials are not made personally responsible for payment of compensation, they will continue to disobey the Constitution and law with impunity. There is no reason why the taxpayer should pay the price for police lawlessness.

Two earlier decisions of the Court take a more pragmatic view in this regard. P.U.D.R. v. Police Commissioner Delhi Police2 was a case of violence on persons who had been taken to the police station to do some work without payment. A woman was stripped and thrashed and eight persons were beaten up. Another person who was assaulted succumbed to his injuries. The Court directed the payment of Rs 50,000 to the family of deceased, Rs 500 to the woman whose modesty had been outraged and Rs 25 each to the eight persons who had been beaten. The Court directed that after investigation, the amount of the compensation or part thereof may be recovered from the persons found responsible, after giving them an opportunity to show cause (this was done because responsibility had not yet been fixed). In Saheli v. Commissioner of Police3 which was a case of death of a child due to beating and assault, the Court directed payment of Rs 75,000 to the mother of the deceased and permitted the Delhi Administration to take appropriate steps for the recovery of the amount paid as compensation or part thereof from the officers who would be found responsible, if so advised.

On the question of making an entry into the official's service record also, the Court's decision in Patil appears to be erroneous. The official concerned viz. Shri Prakash Chavan had in fact been found responsible for the illegal handcuffing, both by the High Court and by the Supreme Court. The official was a party to the proceedings and nothing more remained to be enquired into. Therefore, the question of giving him any further opportunity did not arise. Moreover, in service law, no enquiry is required to be held before awarding an adverse entry. Once the adverse entry is awarded, the official concerned is given a right to make a representation. Here none of that is relevant because the official concerned has been held responsible for committing an unconstitutional act right up to the Supreme Court.

  1. (1991) 2 SCC 373 Return to Text
  2. (1989) 4 SCC 730 Return to Text
  3. (1990) 1 SCC 422 Return to Text
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