SC takes up compensation plea of Manipur activist
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Manipur government on a plea for compensation for “illegal detention” of an activist the court freed on Monday after he had spent 67 days in custody over a social media post, disagreeing with the BJP-ruled state’s appeal that the matter be put to “rest”.
Activist Leichombam Erendro, who had been booked under the National Security Act and arrested on May 13 for a Facebook post that said cow urine and cow dung do not cure Covid, was directed to be set free by Monday evening by the apex court that observed that his continued detention “would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty”.
Erendro, who had made the comment after the death of Manipur BJP chief S. Tikendra Singh, was released at 4.45pm on Monday from a prison in the state.
When the matter came up for further consideration before the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah on Tuesday, Erendro’s lawyer, Shadan Farasat, pleaded that the prayer for compensation for “illegal arrest and detention” in the petition should also be considered. The petition was filed by Raghumani Singh, Erendro’s father.
Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Manipur government, argued that the matter should be put to rest as Erendro had been released. “…I request this may rest here,” Mehta said, stating that the government had readily complied with the direction for the activist’s release and also revoked the NSA charges against him.
However, Justice Chandrachud, heading the bench, said while referring to Erendro’s detention: “It’s a serious matter. Someone has lost their liberty since May.”
Mehta responded: “Yesterday I didn’t even attempt to defend it. And yesterday itself it was revoked.”
The court said it would record the solicitor-general’s submission and sought the views of Farasat.
Erendro’s counsel submitted that FIRs had been registered against the activist, besides his detention under the NSA, but no chargesheet had been filed yet. Farasat argued that orders of detention were passed in a cavalier manner, so responsibility had to be fixed on officials.
Mehta insisted again that the matter be put to rest, pointing out that the government had revoked the NSA charges.
The bench then passed the following written order:
“Mr Tushar Mehta, learned solicitor-general, states that after the proceedings were heard by this court on 19 July 2021, an order has been passed on the same day releasing the detenue pursuant to the interim direction and the order by which he has been detained under the provisions of the National Security Act, 1980, has been revoked.
“Mr Shadan Farasat, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner, submits that there is also a prayer for compensation which has been made in the proceedings under Article 32 of the Constitution. Issue notice. Mr Tushar Mehta, learned solicitor-general appearing with Mr Pukhrambam Ramesh Kumar, learned counsel, accepts notice. The counter affidavit be filed within two weeks. List the petition on 6 August 2021 for final disposal…”
In the petition, Raghumani had sought contempt action against the Manipur chief secretary and two other officials. In a separate habeas corpus petition, he had pleaded for the production of his son and adequate compensation for the allegedly wrongful arrest and detention.
The petition had pointed out that despite Erendro being granted bail for alleged offences under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505(b)(2) (public mischief), 295A (outraging religious sentiments), 503 and 504 (breach of peace) by a trial court on May 17, he was rearrested on the orders of a district magistrate under the NSA.
The aggrieved father had pleaded that Erendro was arrested and detained despite the Supreme Court on April 20 passing an order that citizens airing their views on the Covid crisis on social media shall not be subjected to criminal cases or arrested. Raghumani had said that the Manipur government’s actions amounted to contempt of court.