Detention without formal arrest: Supreme Court orders release of former Meghalaya cop Champion R Sangma
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Detention without formal arrest: Supreme Court orders release of former Meghalaya cop Champion R Sangma

Murali Krishnan

In a strongly worded order, the Supreme Court yesterday berated the State of Meghalaya for illegal detention of former Meghalaya police officer, Chamipon R Sangma (petitioner) while ordering his immediate release.

A Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan set aside the order passed by Additional District Magistrate (Judicial) allowing an application made by the prosecution against the release of Sangma.

The Court in its order noted that the application, which prayed for rejection of bail application of Sangma was itself defective, as Sangma had never filed any such bail application.

Advocates Liz Mathew, Shahrukh Alam and Philip Mathew represented the petitioner. Advocates Ranjan Mukherjee, Daniel Stone Lyngdott and Subhro Sanyal appeared for the respondents.

Background

By way of background, Sangma is the Chairman and Commandar-in-Chief of Garo National Liberation Army though the same is denied by him.

There were several criminal cases which are registered against the petitioner. In most of these cases, he was either acquitted or discharged. In some of the cases which are still pending, he had been granted bail except in Case GR No. 72/2011 in which chargesheet No. 11/2012 dated February 29, 2012 had been filed.

After the registration of FIR in the aforesaid case sometime in the year 2011, the petitioner could not be arrested as, according to the respondent, he had absconded. He was declared an absconder and chargesheet was filed in the year 2012. The record of the said case, which was summoned by the Supreme Court, revealed that the last order was that of October 01, 2012 when the case was adjourned to December 13, 2012. Thereafter, there were no proceedings in this case. When the case rested at that stage in the aforesaid matter as mentioned above, the petitioner was arrested in relation to his involvement in other cases as well.

However, as stated above, the petitioner had been granted bail in all such cases by the concerned Courts. As on January 2018, the position was that the petitioner had been granted bail in the pending cases against him and, therefore, in normal course, he should have been released from custody.

But an application was made with respect to GR No. 72/2011, by the prosecution in the Court of Additional District Magistrate (Judicial), Resubelpara, North Garo Hills, Meghalaya. The application stated that the petitioner had submitted a bail application in the Court and a request was made that the said bail application be rejected.

By an order dated January 24, 2018, allowed the said prayer in the application. The effect of this order by the ADM was that the petitioner was kept in custody even though he was not arrested in the aforesaid case and had already been granted bail in all other cases.

This led to the petition in Supreme Court.

Supreme Court order

The Court at the very outset noted the following with respect to the application made by the prosecution and the order passed by the ADM.

  • Though the prosecution has moved an application before the Court of Additional District Magistrate (Judicial), North Garo Hills, opposing the bail application made by the petitioner in the Court, in fact, no such bail application was ever filed by the petitioner. There was no question of filing any bail application in the first place as the petitioner was never arrested in this case.
  • When the aforesaid application of the prosecution purportedly opposing the bail application of the petitioner was filed, the learned Additional District Magistrate (Judicial) did not have any records of the case except the application which was put up before him and the averments made therein.
  • No notice of this application was ever served upon the petitioner. The application was considered exparte and treating the averments made in the said application as gospel truth, the prayer made in the application was allowed.

The Court observed that the order passed by the ADM was non-est, nullity and without any jurisdiction as the application by the prosecution was not admissible under any provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

“It is clear from the aforesaid that insofar as order dated 24.01.2018 is concerned, it is non-est, nullity and without any jurisdiction. Even if we presume, as contended by the learned counsel for the respondent, that the application dated 24.01.2018 was not happily worded, the main purpose of the application was to request the Court not to release the petitioner. Such an application was not admissible under any provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.”

The Court then came down upon the prosecution for resorting to procedure outside the scope of law.

“Once order dated 24.01.2018 is treated as an order without jurisdiction, the custody of the petitioner, who has otherwise been released on bail in all other cases, is clearly illegal. We have not understood the manner in which the prosecution has acted in this case. Even if the allegations contained in Chargesheet No. 11/2012 dated 29.02.2012 in the aforesaid GR No. 72/2011 are serious, the respondent is supposed to act in accordance with law.”

Holding that the manner in which the State proceeded in the matter is impermissible, illegal and violative of Article 21, the Court ordered the release of Sangma.

“The manner in which the respondent proceeded in this matter is clearly impermissible, violative of the rule of law and offends the petitioner’s right under Article 21 of the Constitution as he has been detained in custody by adopting totally faulty and illegal process.

In these circumstances, we allow this writ petition and make the Rule absolute and direct that the petitioner shall be released forthwith.”

The Court, however, made it clear that the State shall not be precluded from taking any appropriate legal steps in the aforesaid FIR/chargesheet, which are permissible in law.

Read the order below.

Champion-R-Sangma-v.-Union-of-India.pdf
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