27 Dec 2010

Chief Minister not to interfere with Police functioning: Supreme Court

Taking serious exception to the role of the Chief Minister in directing police not to take action in a matter involving a particular person, the Supreme Court in a recent decision expressed its displeasure in no uncertain terms against such practices. Declaring in State of Maharashtra v. Sarangdharsingh Shivdassingh Chavan that the directions by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (who has been mentioned and criticized by name more than once in the decision) were contrary to the republican values of our constitution and an unwarranted intervention in the role of the police, the Supreme Court imposed an exemplary cost of ten lakhs.

The Court inter alia observed as under;
2. The facts of each case, which come up to this Court and especially those which are heard at length as appeals, have a message to convey. The message conveyed in this case is extremely shocking and it shocks the conscience of this Court about the manner in which the Constitutional functionaries behaved in the State of Maharashtra.
18. Since, the learned counsel for the first respondent was arguing on the propriety of directions given by the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra and also on the propriety of Chief Minister’s Personal Secretary making telephone calls to the police station and giving instructions as to how complaints should be registered against the family of the second respondent, this Court thought that the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, who was initially not a party to this proceeding, should be impleaded and be given a chance to make his representation before the Court. Therefore, this Court by an order dated 31st March 2010, gave notice to the then Chief Minister of State of Maharashtra, presently Union Minister, Department of Heavy Industries, Government of India and directed service of the entire paper book of Special Leave Petition on him in order to enable him to file an affidavit in the context of the letter dated 5th June 2006 sent by the Collector to the District Superintendent of the Police, Buldhana. 
19. Pursuant to the said notice an affidavit was filed by Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra. In paragraph 5 of the said affidavit the content of the letter of the Collector dated 5.6.06 was not denied. Nor was it denied that on 31.5.06, his Private Secretary made two telephone calls to the concerned Police Station enquiring about cases registered against Sananda. However, in the said affidavit Mr. Deshmukh stated that he never interfered with any pending investigation against the family of Sananda and he further stated that investigation was conducted and the chargesheet was filed.
20. Considering the entire matter in its proper perspective, this Court is of the view that the way interference was caused first from the office of the Chief Minister by his Private Secretary by two telephone calls on 31.5.2006 and the manner in which District Collector was summoned by the Chief Minister on the very next day i.e. 1.6.2006 for giving instructions to specially treat any complaints filed against M.L.A. Mr. Dilip Kumar Sananda and his family has no precedent either in law or in public administration.
21. The legal position is well settled that on information being lodged with the police and if the said information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, the police shall record the same in accordance with the provisions contained under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Police Officer’s power to investigate in case of a cognizable offence without order of the Magistrate is statutorily recognised under Section 156 of Code. Thus the police officer in charge of a police station, on the basis of information received or otherwise, can start investigation if he has reasons to suspect the commission of any cognizable offence.
22. This is subject to the provisos (a) and (b) to Section 157 of the Code which leaves discretion with the police officer-in-charge of police station to consider if the information is not of a serious nature, he may depute a subordinate officer to investigate and if it appears to the officer-in-charge that there does not exist sufficient ground, he shall not investigate. 
23. This legal framework is a very vital component of the Rule of Law in order to ensure prompt investigation in cognizable cases and to maintain law and order.
24. Law does not accord any special treatment to any person in respect of any complaint having been filed against him when it discloses the commission of any cognizable offence. In the context of this clear legal position which, as noted above, is a vital component of a Rule of Law, the direction of the then Chief Minister to give a special treatment to Shri Dilip Kumar Sananda, M.L.A and his family about registering of complaint filed against them is totally unwarranted in law. Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh as the Chief Minister of State of Maharashtra is expected to know that the farmers of the State specially those in the Vidarbha region are going through a great deal of suffering and hardship in the hands of money lenders.
28. As Judges of this Court, it is our paramount duty to maintain the Rule of Law and the Constitutional norms of equal protection.
29. We cannot shut our eyes to the stark realities. From the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), it is clear that close to two lakh farmers committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2008. This is the largest sustained wave of suicides ever recorded in human history. Two thirds of the two lakh suicides took place in five states and those five states are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Even though Maharashtra is one of the richest state in the country and in its capital Mumbai twenty five thousand of India’s one lakh dollar millionaires reside, the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, in which is situated Buldhana, is today the worst place in the whole country for farmers. Professor K. Nagraj of the Madras Institute of Development Studies who carried on a research in this area has categorized that Maharashtra could be called the graveyard of farmers.
30. The position is so pathetic in Vidarbha region that families are holding funerals and weddings at the same time and some time on the same day. In a moving show of solidarity poor villagers are accumulating their money and labour to conduct marriages and funerals of their poor neighbours. (See the report in Hindu dated 22nd May 2006).
31. This being the ground reality, as the Chief Minister of the State and as holding a position of great responsibility as a high constitutional functionary, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh certainly acted beyond all legal norms by giving the impugned directions to the Collector to protect members of a particular family who are dealing in money lending business from the normal process of law. This amounts to bestowing special favour to some chosen few at the cost of the vast number of poor people who as farmers have taken loans and who have come to the authorities of law and order to register their complaints against torture and atrocities by the money lenders. Theinstructions of the Chief Minister will certainly impede their access to legal redress and bring about a failure of the due process .
32. The aforesaid action of the Chief Minister is completely contrary to and inconsistent with the constitutional promise of equality and also the preambular resolve of social and economic justice. As a Chief Minister of the State Mr. Deshmukh has taken a solemn of oath of allegiance to the Constitution but the directions which he gave are wholly unconstitutional and seek to subvert the constitutional norms of equality and social justice. 
38. This Court is extremely anguished to see that such an instruction could come from the Chief Minister of a State which is governed under a Constitution which resolves to constitute India into a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Chief Minister’s instructions are so incongruous and anachronistic, being in defiance of all logic and reason, that our conscience is deeply disturbed. We condemn the same in no uncertain terms.
39. We affirm the order of the High Court and direct that the instruction of the Chief Minister to the Collector dated 5.6.06 has no warrant in law and is unconstitutional and is quashed. We dismiss this appeal with costs of Rs.10,00,000/- (Rupees Ten Lakhs) to be paid by the appellant in favour of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority. This fund shall be earmarked by the Authority to help the cases of poor farmers. Such costs should be paid within a period of six weeks from date.

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