The Bombay High Court has rapped police for arresting a 49-year-old man under CrPc provisions on the ground that he was sipping tea in a 'suspicious' manner at a stall in Kolhapur.
The man was having tea near Shivaji University in Rajarampuri area of Kolhapur in morning hours of February 22 this year.
"This is bewildering. We were unaware that the law required anyone to give an explanation for having tea, whether in the morning, noon or night," said a bench which quashed and set aside the police action against the accused, Vijay Patil.
According to police, Patil did not give satisfactory explanation as to why he was having "chai" (tea) in suspicious manner at the stall. He was held under section 151 of CrPc for suspicious conduct and a Magistrate asked him to furnish a bond of good conduct.
Being aggrieved, he moved the court. "One might take tea in a variety of ways, not all of them always elegant or delicate, some of them perhaps even noisy. But we know of no way to drink tea 'suspiciously'.
"The ingestion of a cup that cheers demands no explanation. And while 'cutting chai' is permissible, now even fashionable, cutting corners with the law is not," said Justices S C Dharmadhikari and G S Patel in a recent order.
The petitioner said his arrest was at 11 am in the morning, but the station diary put the time of arrest at 3.30 pm. It is on this basis that he mounted his claim for damages for illegal detention, but the court opined that in its view it was a subsidiary matter.
The impugned orders under the CrPC presented far more fundamental problems. Prosecutor K V Saste referred to affidavit filed by V T Jadhav, police sub-inspector of Rajarampuri police station, which alleged that Patil was a hardened criminal, habitually drawn to criminal activity.
The police, therefore, were justified in acting as they did in apprehending him before he committed yet another offence, he submitted. The court, however, disagreed with the prosecutor.
"There seems to be very little justification for the impugned orders or even for taking the view the police claim they did. Why exactly his behaviour was thought to be suspicious, we are not told. We are only told that he has a very long line of criminal cases," said the judges.
The bench noted that the list of 113 cases cited by police against the petitioner showed that all of them were under the Gambling Act, except one invoking other provisions of the Arms Act and the Indian Penal Code.
"The list further shows that in a substantial number of cases, the petitioner has been acquitted. In other cases, trials are pending. Between them, there is not a single conviction, though even that would not have been justification enough (for the police action)," the judges opined.
Of the 113 cases tabulated, 108 were outside the jurisdiction of the Rajarampuri police station. In an affidavit, the concerned police officer claimed that other offences were committed outside Rajarampuri police station's jurisdiction.
"To show that the petitioner is a habitual offender, the 4th respondent (police officer) refers to a subsequent case (of March 2013). We do not see how this can possibly assist respondents (police). The police officer maintains that the petitioner is a repeat offender and his acquittals are on what he calls 'technicalities' such as witnesses turning hostile," they observed.
The judges held that petitioner's counsel Satyavrat Joshi was justified in contending that the unavailability of witnesses or their refusal to give evidence against the accused was not a mere technicality. In any event, this was wholly irrelevant, the bench observed.
"Joshi is also justified in contending that the entire process is unlawful. Previous acquittals cannot be brushed aside like this. This itself is a ground for relief and, at the very least, shows a complete non-application of mind, if not a colourable exercise of power," the judges opined.
Beyond saying that the petitioner had no explanation for being at the tea stall, the judges said they found nothing in the 4th respondent's affidavit in reply.
"This, in our view, is insufficient compliance with the mandate of Section 151 of CrPc. The petitioner's past history of criminal cases is equally irrelevant, since it cannot possibly lead to any conclusion of imminent criminal activity. We note that cases listed by police go back as far as 1998," the judges noted.