The Kerala HC upheld a 2015 judgement by a single bench, directed the state government to compensate a man for detaining him on suspicions of being a Maoist.

State cannot persecute man on suspicion of being Maoist Kerala HC
news Law Thursday, July 11, 2019 - 18:31

Upholding the 2015 judgement by a single bench, the Kerala High Court on Monday directed the state government to compensate a man for detaining him on suspicions of being a Maoist. The two-judge bench, on Monday, said that the suspicion was not based on any valid material, and violated his fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

On May 20, 2014, Shyam, an author and researcher residing in Vellamunda, Wayanad, was travelling to Korom, Kannur, on a bike when he was picked up by officers (in mufti) of the Thunderbolt force, a special force constituted to crackdown on Maoist activity. The bike belonged to Shyam’s friend and wife, who the police were on the lookout for on the basis of suspected Maoist links. 

Despite telling the officers that the couple who owned the bike was at his house and requesting them to take him there, the officers took him to the police station. The officers also searched his house without a warrant. 

Shyam Balakrishnan, the son of a former High Court judge NK Balakrishnan, filed a writ petition against illegal police custody. In his writ petition, Shyam stated that he was also not allowed to inform his partner that he was being detained, and was further strip-searched in the police station. 

In a judgement delivered on May 22, 2015, a single-judge bench of the High Court held that Shyam was unlawfully detained and asked the Kerala government to compensate him with Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10,000 as legal charges. 

However, challenging this, the Kerala government moved the High Court challenging the single-bench judgement. This appeal was heard, on Monday, by the division bench comprising Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar, who went on to uphold the earlier judgement. 

What the judgement said

“The preamble to our Constitution declares that we the people of India are guaranteed the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. The freedom of an individual to hold a particular political ideology is an aspect of his fundamental right to personal liberty under Article 21 of our constitution that he has unfettered freedom to choose an ideology of his liking. Accordingly, merely on a suspicion that a person has embraced the Maoist ideology, he cannot be persecuted by the State authorities,” the order stated.

The bench also held that the appellant (Kerala state government) had not produced any material to “show what the basis for harbouring a suspicion against the petitioner was, when it stated that the police authorities had reason to believe that the petitioner (Shyam) would commit an offence”.

Pointing to procedural lapses on the part of the police, the bench noted, “In not summoning him to the police station in terms of Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure or formally arresting him, and thereafter searching his residence without a search warrant, all pointed to an infringement of his fundamental right to privacy and personal liberty, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” 

It also observed, “It may be that the police entertained suspicion and the action taken was to a good end, but it is fundamental in our law that the means which are adopted to this end are lawful means. A good end does not justify a bad means more so when the means adopted are such that violate the personal freedom and privacy of individuals.”  

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