Can a citizen be arrested by the police for drinking tea at a roadside stall? This was the question that the petitioner, Vijay Patil, asked the High Court of Bombay recently upon being arrested for drinking tea at 11 am at a road-side stall near Shivaji University in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. After inquiring about what he was doing, the police had arrested the petitioner, who was merely drinking tea. Considering this as “no satisfactory explanation”, the police had arrested the petitioner on grounds of preventive detention under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and upon their prompt proposal, the special executive magistrate had ordered that a bond of Rs 4,000 for ‘good behaviour’ be executed by the petitioner. The petitioner complied with the same and his statement was recorded.
When questioned by the court about the justification for such arrest, the police claimed that not only was the petitioner habitually given to criminal activity, but there was also a long list of criminal cases against him. The police asserted that they were justified in acting as they did in apprehending Patil before he committed yet another crime, a matter that seemed to them imminent at that time.
However, the petitioner’s advocate disagreed with the police version and argued that there was little justification for the way the police had acted. In the high court, the police could not properly explain why they felt that the behaviour of the arrested person was suspicious. The police asserted that Patil had, inter alia, a long line of 113 criminal cases under the Public Gambling Act, 1867 levelled against him. However, from the police’s statement, the high court found that in a substantial number of cases, Patil had been acquitted. In other cases, trials were pending and there was not a single conviction against him.
The high court found the police version of there being no satisfactory explanation for Patil to drink tea at the tea-stall as “bewildering” and after hearing the arguments, the high court, in its judgment, stated: “we were unaware that the law required anyone to give an explanation for having tea, whether in the morning, noon or night. 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.”
With regard to the actions taken by the police under Section 151 of the CrPC, the high court held that “a police officer may effect an arrest without a Magistrate’s order and without a warrant only where he learns that the arrested person is imminently likely to commit a cognizable offence. He must, in addition, be satisfied that the impending crime cannot otherwise be prevented. This means that the record must reflect a subjective satisfaction as to all these requirements. Where these conditions are not met, there is a violation of a person’s fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India. Similarly, a Magistrate’s jurisdiction under Section 107 is to be exercised only in an emergent situation.” According to the high court, the police’s version of the arrest was “insufficient compliance with the mandate of Section 151.”
The high court’s scathing observations and its reprimand to the police for its high-handedness vindicate the stand of ordinary citizens. However, the high court was not inclined to consider the petitioner’s claim for compensation for illegal detention. This judgment of the Bombay high court is an eye-opener, which should come as a relief to people against whom similar cases of illegal preventive detention are made by the police for no rhyme or reason. Relief can be claimed by such victims too.