26 Dec 2010

Shops not to be shut on mere apprehensions: High Court

Holding that it was the duty of the police to provide protection and it could not simply require a meat-shop to be shut down alleging fears of communal violence, the Delhi High Court in a recent decision has quashed the order of the Municipal Corporation revoking the meat-shop licence of such person.The High Court, deciding in ANWAR AHSAN v. MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF DELHI declared that the Municipal Corporation without observing principles of natural justice could not have cancelled the licence to run the meat-shop. The High Court also decried upon the manner in which the action was undertaken by the police authorities.

It was inter alia held as under;
17. It appears to this Court that the revocation of a licence issued in accordance with law by the MCD after the police verification is indeed a serious matter. On mere complaints by certain residents opposed to running a meat shop in the area, a unilateral order revoking a licence could not have been passed by the MCD without observing the basic requirements of natural justice. In the first place a proper enquiry ought to have been conducted by the police on the compliant made by the residents. This was not done in the instant case. Secondly, the status report filed in this Court that there was a protest against the sale of 'cow meat' is not substantiated at all. There is nothing in the file to indicate that the police went to the Petitioner's shop to find out if the meat being sold there was anything other than buffalo meat. When dealing with a sensitive issue which may have implications for communal harmony, the police ought to have acted with greater responsibility and made a proper enquiry. The allegations made by the local residents the Petitioner remained unsubstantiated. To straightway recommend to the MCD the closure of the Petitioner's meat shop and revoke his licence was an extreme step taken by the police, which was accepted by the MCD. Apart from being violative of principles of natural justice, the measure was arbitrary, unreasonable and disproportionate
18. It is the primary duty of the police to deal with law and order. It is only upon an inability to deal with such a situation should resort be had to other extreme measures including the closure of meat shop for the running of which licence has been issued in accordance with law. The assessment of law and order situation has to be done by the police in a responsible manner. Even if the police apprehends a law and order situation, it should make every effort to mediate between the persons in conflict. The police should try and bring about a situation where the misgivings of the parties are satisfactorily addressed. Without there being any actual occurrence of any unpleasant incident, and without some modicum of an enquiry, it would be unsafe to jump to a conclusion on mere apprehension, that there is going to be a law and order problem, and take the extreme measure of closing a validly licenced business. In any event, such an extreme step ought not to have been taken without offering the licence holder an opportunity of being heard, after furnishing to him the material on the basis of which the extreme measure is proposed. In the instant case, none of the above 'due process' steps were taken.
19. For all the above reasons, this Court sets aside the order dated 23rd October 2009 issued by the MCD revoking the Petitioner's licence. ThePetitioner shall be permitted by the MCD to resume business at his licenced meat shop forthwith. The SHO, Police Station Aman Vihar, Delhi is directed to ensure that proper protection is given to the Petitioner to run his meat shop peacefully and without interference from the local residents. This protection should be extended for a period of four weeks from today and thereafter, reviewed depending on the assessment by the police of the prevailing situation.

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