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Doctor Pesi Eduijee Mehta Vs. Additional District Magistrate and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCriminal
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCriminal Writ Appeal No. 41 of 1977
Judge
Reported inILR1977Delhi595; 1978RLR49
ActsMaintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971 - Sections 3(1)(3)(4)
AppellantDoctor Pesi Eduijee Mehta
RespondentAdditional District Magistrate and ors.
Advocates: V.M. Tarkunde,; R.M. Mehta,; R.K. Jain and;
Cases Referred(See Reg. v. Governor of Brixton Prison Ex
Excerpt:
.....the grounds vague as they lack in material particular--non-application of mind.; that-; (1) the detaining authority is required by law to give an opportunity to the detenu to make a representation against the order of detention. the requirement of supplying the grounds of detention to the detenu is, thereforee, to be read in conjunction with and subservient to the primary mandate of the legislature to the detaining authority.; (2) the grounds of detention, in the instant case, are singularly lacking in material particulars. the grounds do not give any clue to the nature of officially documents and information to prevent the disclosure of which the petitioner was detained. the particulars are the details of the case. a picture is not complete with a mere skeletal sketch unless the..........statements have confirmed the statement of the accused.'(10) counsel said that under the law the detaining authority 'was bound to communicate to the petitioner basic facts and material information which weighed with it in ordering the detention and its failure to do so has left the grounds communicated deficient and vague and as a consequence the petitioner was deprived of his right of making an effective representation. for this reason it is urged that the detention is illegal.(11) we think that this contention of the petitioner's counsel must prevail. no doubt clause (5) of article 22 of the constitution and 599 section 8 of the act do not in terms speak of 'particulars' or 'facts' but only of 'grounds' to be communicated to the detenu. now what does the term 'grounds' mean? the.....
Judgment:

Avadh Behari Rohatgi, J.

(1) The petitioner Doctor Pesi Eduljee Mehta is a' consultant engineer by profession. He is in detention. He seeks a writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of his detention.

(2) The Additional District Magistrate, Delhi, Mr. V. K. Duggal, passed an order of detention on April 18, 1977 under sub-clause (i) of clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971, (26 of 1971) (the Act), directing that the petitioner be detained on the ground that it was necessary to do so 'with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of India'. Immediately he was served with the grounds. of detention dated April 18, 1977.

(3) The substance of the grounds of detention is that Doctor Mehta is the agent of a foreign power and the kingpin of a conspiracy. He was obtaining by surreptitious means information and documents' in the possession of various Government officials of this country and was secretly communicating the same to the Delhi-based foreign intelligence officers.

(4) The petitioner was arrested by the police on January 26, 1977 at Oberoi Intercontinental Hotel, New Delhi in connection with case Fir No. 26 under sections 3, 4, 5 and 9 of the Indian Official Secrets Act read with section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code registered against him at the police station Srinivaspuri.

(5) On February Ii, 1977, an order of detention under section 3(1)(a)(i) of the Act was served on the petitioner in jail. On that very day a declaration under section 16-A of the Act was also made. Under section 16-A of the Act it was not necessary to serve the grounds of detention on the petitioner during the period of the proclamation of emergency issued under clause (1) of Article 352 of the Constitution on the 25th day of June, 1976. The petitioner says that this order under section 16-A was never served upon him. But we need not enquire into this since the impugned order is a much later order dated April 18,1977. On February 14, 1977, the petitioner made a confessional statement before Shri Kuldip Singh, Metropolitan Magistrate, New Delhi under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. On March 21, 1977, the order of detention and declaration dated February 11, 1977, were both revoked. A fresh order of detention was made under section 3(1)(a)(i) of the Act. Section 16-A of the Act had lapsed on the revocation of the proclamation of emergency by the President. thereforee, the grounds of detention dated March 21, 1977, were communicated to the petitioner. On April 6, 1977, the order of detention dated March 21, 1977 was revoked. A fresh order of detention was passed on April 6, 1977 under section 3(l)(a)(i) of the Act. The grounds of detention dated April 6, 1977, were served on the petitioner. Subsequently, the order of detention dated April 6, 1977 was revoked and a fresh order of detention dated April 18, 1977 was passed under sub-clause (i) of clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Act, as we have said. Immediately the grounds of detention dated April 18, 1977 were served on the petitioner. It is this order which is now under challenge before us. The petitioner's case was referred to the Advisory Board under section 9 of the Act. The Board held its meeting on May 18, 1977. The petitioner appeared before the Board. He was heard. He also submitted a written representation to the Board. The Advisory Board sent its opinion on May 21. 1977 to the Delhi Administration. The Board held that the detention of the petitioner was justified.

(6) On July 21, 1977, the petitioner made an application for a writ of habeas corpus to this court.

(7) Counsel for the petitioner challenged the order of detention before us on three main grounds. Firstly, he submitted that the grounds of detention are vague and the order of detention is illegal. In the grounds of detention it is said that

'SHRI (Dr) P. E. Mehta had been in conspiracy with foreign power and had been collecting directly or indirectly secret information and documents from various Government officials and passing on the same to his foreign contact.'

(8) Then it is recited that

'THE collaboration of the accused with Delhi-based foreign intelligence officers goes back to 1962, when according to confessional statement of the accused, he first came into contact with a foreigner in New Delhi in connection with the supply of some medicine for his ailing father-in-law. The foreigner gradually tackled him for supplying secret information and documents from his Govt. contacts. By virtue of his profession as consulting engineer and a representative of a number of foreign firms the accused had vast Govt. contacts and he exploited them from obtaining sensitive information which he supplied to his foreign friends.'

(9) It is said that for his services Dr. Mehta (wrongly called the 'accused' in the grounds) used to get Rs. 1,000 per month from his foreign friends which in 1969 was raised to Rs. 2,000 per month. In this way Dr. Mehta, it is alleged, received Rs. 4 lakhs from his foreign collaborators. The grounds go on to state :

'THE accused had contacts in various Ministries and other Government offices. He exploited these contacts of his and obtained secret and sensitive documents and information on payment and supplied them to his foreign intelligence friends. On interrogation, a number of governmental contacts of the accused in their confessional statements have confirmed the statement of the accused.'

(10) Counsel said that under the law the detaining authority 'was bound to communicate to the petitioner basic facts and material information which weighed with it in ordering the detention and its failure to do so has left the grounds communicated deficient and vague and as a consequence the petitioner was deprived of his right of making an effective representation. For this reason it is urged that the detention is illegal.

(11) We think that this contention of the petitioner's counsel must prevail. No doubt clause (5) of Article 22 of the Constitution and 599 section 8 of the Act do not in terms speak of 'particulars' or 'facts' but only of 'grounds' to be communicated to the detenu. Now what does the term 'grounds' mean? The Supreme Court in a very recent decision has said:

'ALL the basic facts and material particulars, thereforee, which have influenced the detaining authority in making the order of detention, will be covered by 'grounds' within the contemplation of Article 22(5) and Section 8 and are required to be communicated to the detenu unless their disclosure is considered by the authority to be against public interest. The question whether this requirement is complied with or not is justiciable. Indeed it is the duty of this Court as sentinel of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, to see that the liberty of none is taken away except in accordance with procedure prescribed by law.'

(Golam v. State of West Bengal, : 1976CriLJ630 ).

(12) The detaining authority is required by law to give an opportunity to the detenu to make a representation against the order of detention. The requirement of supplying the grounds of detention to the detenu is, thereforee, to be read in conjunction with and subservient to the primary mandate of the legislature to the detaining authority that it

'(AND) shall afford him the earliest opportunity of making a representation against the order'.

'And shall afford' are affirmative words both in concept and expression. They are not negative instance.

(13) What do we find in this case? Has the detaining authority satisfied the constitutional and statutory requirements? Did it communicate to the detenu in the grounds 'those basic facts and material particulars' on which its order was based. The complaint of the detenu is that the grounds are vague as they lack all material particulars. Is this complaint justified We think it is. The grounds of detention brand Dr. Mehta as 'anti-national' having 'extra territorial loyalties'. But it does not tell him what are those countries to which he owes allegiance. The grounds do not state the nature of the secret information and documents which the detenu had been obtaining from the possession of one State for the benefit of another. It does not give any details of the nature of the documents, and the nature of information, though both are said to be 'sensitive' The detenu has been left completely in the dark about the nature of those documents. Were those documents diplomatic, economic, political, military or technical? What deleterious effect on the security of India did they have? 'Foreign friends' have not been named.

(14) We think this case is a good example where the grounds of detention are singularly lacking in material particulars. The grounds do not give any clue to the nature of official documents and information to prevent the disclosure of which the petitioner was detained. The particulars are the details of the case. A picture is not complete with a mere skeletal sketch unless the details of flesh and blood are filled in.

(15) The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1923 was passed to prevent breaches of official confidence (for which there was no penalty at common law) and to counter espionage and sabotage (See Chandler v. Dpp (1964) Ac 763. The grounds state that Dr. Mehta is an anti-national element who of late has been adopting unscrupulous methods to attain his ends. It is said that he was friendly with Government officials who is furtherance of a conspiracy divulged secret information to him. The question is: Who were the co-conspirators What were the breaches of official confidence of which they were guilty Who are those others who have confirmed the statement of the detenu and what did they depose to inculpate him We think all these details are material.

(16) It is worthy of note that the detaining authority does not claim privilege. Nowhere in the grounds the authority has said that there are facts in its possession which it considers to be against public interest to disclose [See section 8(2) of the Act]. thereforee, the detenu is entitled to know the nature of the case against him with particulars of charges and breaches of official confidence.

(17) The object of particulars is two-fold. First, to inform the detenu that this is the case of the Authority against him and this is why he has been detained. Secondly, to give an opportunity to the detenn to make a representation against the order of detention. How can a man defend until he knows the charge against him And here the right to make a representation is a measure of defense. In order to enable the detenu to make an effective representation he must be told about the specific acts in which he passed information to the foreign powers, the documents he passed, the Governments to which he passed the information so that he can know how he has acted 'in a manner prejudicial to the Security of India and India's relations with foreign power'.

(18) We must, thereforee, hold the order of detention had both for the reason that the grounds of detention are vague as they do not set out all the basic facts and material panticulars as also for the reason that the detenu was denied an opportunity of making an effective representation against the order of detention.

(19) Now we turn to the second ground of challenge. Counsel says that the detaining authority in this case stood in awe of the orders of the Home Ministry contained in the letter dated February 11, 1977 and the communication made to it by the Superintendent of Police dated March 22, 1977. All this, he says, shows that the detaining authority did not pass the order of detention on its own subjective opinion. We have set out these two letters in our judgment in Eknath Laxman Chudhury v. Superintendent jail, Criminal Writ No. 39 of 1977 decided on August 11, 1977(3). In this petition they are set out as Exhibit Pll as petitioner's document and Ex. R-2/1 to the affidavit of Mr. Duggal. These letters show that the detaining authority acted under the dictation of a superior authority, namely, the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Superintendent of Police also emphasised that it was 'absolutely necessary' to detain Dr. Mehta and others. He prepared the grounds of detention which the authority adopted almost word for word. The satisfaction of the detaining authority was non-existent. The order of detention was in truth a command performance, made as it was at the behest and bidding of a higher authority such as the Ministry of Home Affairs.

(20) The detaining authority has not to accept orders from above. It has to act on its own opinion. It has to exercise its own discretion. If the order is the result of pulls and pressures the order is sham. (See Reg. v. Governor of Brixton Prison Ex parte Soblen, (1963) 2 Q.B. 243. The reason is that external pressure is a sort of swaddling influence that constrains the freedom of thought and action of the detaing authority. The decision of the detaining authority whether to detain a person or not must be its own decision. It must be based on its satisfaction. A satisfaction must be reached in the mind. It cannot be reached anywhere else. But if the authority accepts orders from above and acts on a direction not intended to be questioned it cannot be said that it has addressed itself independently to the matter for consideration before it. For all purposes the authority surrenders its- individual judgment and adopts mechanically the view of an outside authority. Subjective satisfaction is the foundation of the order of detention. And subjective satisfaction postulates freedom of action and thought.

(21) The detaining authority has to exercise its own discretion, we have said. Discretion implies a certain choice between alternate courses of action. The courts do not involve themselves with this choice, often called the merits of the case, but rather define the limits of choice or decide on the appropriate range of choice. Of the merits of the case the detaining authority is the judge. But that the authority was really satisfied on the material before it, uninfluenced by any other considerations except those declared relevant by the Act and that the power is used for purposes for which the statute confers it is for the court to see. The clear stream of reason is polluted if the individual judgment of the decision-maker is subjected to pressure, be he the judge or be it the detaming authority.

(22) Now we come to the last ground of challenge. This ground is based on Section 3(3) and (4) of the Act. The order of detention dated April 18, 1977, passed by the detaining authority was confirmed by the Administrator in exercise of the powers conferred on him by section 12(1) of the Act. Dr. Mehta was ordered to be detained for a period of 12 months from the date of his detention or until the expiry of the defense and Internal Security of India Act, 1971, whichever is later.

(23) Counsel for the Administration frankly conceded that all that was sent to the Administrator for confirmation in this case were the grounds. This shows that the Administrator did not have before it the full confessional statement of the detenu which he could read for himself nor the evidence of the police investigation which he could peruse to satisfy himself that the order has been made on good grounds, that is, on material which is of 'rationally probative value'. The legislature requires the detaining authority to transmit the grounds on which the order has been made 'and such other particulars as in its opinion have a bearing on the matter' to the Administrator. [See section 3(3)]. In this case it was not done. We thereforee reach the conclusion that the Administrator did not apply his mind and approved the order of detention in a mechanical and casual manner. The appropriate Government thus did not discharge the functions assigned to it by the legislature in the hierarchy of authorities. It did not act as an overseeing superior authority over the detaining authority.

(24) The Act postulates three tiers. At the bottom is the detaining authority which is usually the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate. Over the detaining authority is the appropriate Government which has to act as a supervisory authority to see whether the powers of detention have been properly exercised. At the apex is the Central Government which has the last word. The Central Government has to see whether there was the 'necessity for the order' which the detaining authority passed and which the appropriate Government confirmed. It has the overriding power. It can revoke any order of detention : See section 14 of the Act. Such is the scheme of the Act.

(25) Both the appropriate Government and the Central Government have to apply their minds and must see for themselves that the detention order is based on grounds deemed relevant by the Act and the detaining authority has not abused the powers of detention vested in it. vest as they are. If the appropriate Government or the Central Government do not satisfy themselves about the 'necessity' for the order of detention or its justification they fail to discharge their statutory functions. Inasmuch as the Act trenches very strongly on the liberty of the subject, we must take care that its provisions are strictly pursued.

(26) We have briefly summarised our conclusions on each of the three points taken before us. Elaborate reasons we have given in the case of Eknath Laxman Chudhury (supra). The present case is directly covered by that decision and no serious attempt was made on behalf of the Administration to support the legality of the impugned order either by distinguishing that case or otherwise.

(27) The present case is one of a batch of petitions. All these cases in fact were founded on one transaction. According to the Administration Dr. Mehta's name is at the head of the police list while the other leading lights in the conspiracy were Mahabir Pershad, K. K, Sarin, R. P. Varshney and Eknath Laxman Chudhury. Mahabir Pershad(l), K. K. Sarin(2), R. P. Varshney(3) and Eknath Laxman Chudhury(4) have already been freed as their petitions were allowed. Dr. Mehta was the last to come before us.

(28) For these reasons we accept the petition and make the rule absolute.

(29) At the conclusion of the hearing we announced the judgment, issued the writ and ordered the respondents to set the petitioner at liberty forthwith. Now we have given our reasons.

1. Cr.W.No. 19 of 1977 decided on July 21, 1977(Prakash Narain and P.S Safeer JJ).

2. Cri. W. No, 29 of 1977 decided on July 28, 1977 {Prakash Narain and P. S. Safeer JJ).

3. Cri, Writ No. 13 of 1977 decided on August 5, 1977 (Prakash Narain and P. S. Safeer. JJ.

4. Crl. Writ No. 39 of 1977 decided on August Ii, 1977 (Prakash Narain and Avadh Behari Rohatgi JJ).

(30) We were informed by the counsel at the hearing that in connection with his arrest in the investigation of Fir 26 of 1977 dated January 26, 1977 Police Station Srinivaspuri the petitioner had already been granted bail and that he had furnished the bail bond and the surety which the court had accepted.

(31) We were informed that the petitioner had been temporarily released and was undergoing treatment in the Holy Family Hospital, New Delhi. We were further informed that according to the terms of the temporary release the petitioner was required to surrender himself to the Superintendent Central Jail Tihar on his being discharged from the hospital. Inasmuch as surrendering to the Superintendent of Jail would have been necessary if the order of detention dated April 18, 1977 had been upheld now it will no longer be necessary for the petitioner to surrender himself to the jailor as we have struck down the order of his detention.


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