Saheli v. Commissioner Of Police (1990 AIR 513)

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Bench

  1. Justice B.C. Ray
  2. Justice S. Ratnavel Pandian

Parties

Petitioner- Saheli, a Women’s Resources Centre, Throughms, Nalini Bhanot 

Respondent- Commissioner of Police, Delhi Police Headquarters and Ors.

Counsels

Petitioner– Govind Mukhoty and S.K. Bhattacharya

Respondents– V.C. Mahajan, Ms. A. Subhashini and R.B. Mishra

Introduction

“The police are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve disorder.”

Richard J. Daley

Police officers are one of the major law effectuating agencies. But, are we free to reach the police? Can we freely approach the police if we have any problems? Is our police department free from political aggression? 

The role of the police is crucial like any other developmental authority and this can be implemented only if peace and tranquillity are maintained while discharging the functions. It is important to have a well-maintained police force at the State level as many hopes are instilled in it. The police officers often use violent methods and misuse their powers. For a long time, the Government was held liable for tortious acts done by their public servants and the affected persons could enforce their rights in tort by filing a civil suit therein. In any harmful situation, when a person cannot think of any other option, they rush to the police because they feel that the police department is the most appropriate person for it. Police are the most easily approachable, bilateral, and dynamic organisation but if this department becomes iniquitous, the people will have to suffer to a great extent. There are so many instances where we have seen that the statistics of police brutality are increasing. So, is there a need to check the abuse of power by the police? 

The SAHELI organisation is a non-funded organisation, working on early struggles of women against oppression, domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and any discrimination. 

This case is one of the cases in which the police officer misused his sovereign power and killed a nine year old child. Now, let us look upon the facts involved in this case.

Facts of the Case

In 1974, a lady Kamlesh Kumari moved into a new rented house with her husband and 3 children in Anand Parbat. She had three children- Saroj (13 years old), Naresh (9 years old), and Suresh (7 years old). Another lady, Maya Devi was living in another room of the same house with her husband and children. The husbands of both the ladies were truck drivers, so they were mostly away from home. 

In 1984, the old landlord Tajinder Singh left the house and handed over the ownership to Manohar Lal but at the time of the case, Puran Chand and his two sons- Shambu Dayal and Prakash Chand claimed to have brought the property from Manohar Lal and started illegal eviction of tenants from the premises. In this eviction, they succeeded with all the tenants, except Kamlesh Kumari and Maya Devi. Kamlesh Kumari obtained a stay from the court and the stay was still in force. But, in October 1987, the landlords cut off the water and electricity to their room. 

On November 2, 1987, Lal Singh, the Station House Officer of Anand Parbat Police Station called Kamlesh Kumari and warned her to leave the house but she refused to vacate. The S.H.O. again called her on November 4, 1987. This time the landlords were already present in this police station and in their presence, Lal Singh told Kamlesh Kumari to take some money and leave the room, but she asked them to give her some time as her children were studying in schools. On November 12, 1987, the S.H.O. called her once again and threatened to lock her up, in case she did not vacate the room. On November 13, 1987, Kamlesh Kumari went to consult her lawyer in Tis Hazari Court. On returning, she found her children missing from the house, and on visiting the police station, she was informed that her children were in lock-up. However, her lawyer helped her to bring the children out. On November 14, 1987, Shambu Dayal and his sons, Lal Singh, and sub-inspector Sham Lal reached Kamlesh’s house, where she was beaten and molested by tearing the clothes. While she was being beaten up, her nine-year-old son Naresh clung to his mother and tried to protect her, when he was also beaten up badly and thrown on the floor. After all this, Kamlesh Kumari was dragged to the police station and a criminal case of trespass under Section 448[1] of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was imposed on her. On November 16, 1987, her lawyer got her released from the Tihar Jail and on her return she found that her son was in a very bad condition. On November 26, 1987, Naresh died due to fever and pneumonitis as a result of injuries.    

Kamlesh Kumari, with the help of her lawyer filed a medico-legal case, which was investigated by the Inspector of Crime Branch. A report was submitted by Puran Singh, the Inspector of Crime Branch Delhi which stated that “the whole incident was a high level conspiracy to get the tenants out of the house and this case was clearly under the ambit of Section 302[2] and Section 120B[3] of the Indian Penal Code, 1860”.

Kamlesh Kumari tried all means to seek justice for her child and what happened with her family but she failed.

Later, a counter-affidavit was filed by the Respondent no.1, that is, the landlords, stating that the S.H.O. himself took part in the beating of the lady and her child and he had pushed the child sustaining leg injuries on his left leg. This led to registering a case under Section 308[4] which was later altered to Section 304 when the child died and under Section 34[5] of the Indian Penal Code.

Later, a writ petition was filed by the Women’s and Civil Rights Organisations known as SAHELI in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, demanding exemplary damages for Naresh’s death. 

Issues of the Case

There was only one issue involved in the case:

  • Whether the Delhi Administration can be held vicariously liable for the tortious acts done by its employees, that is, the Delhi Police?

Provisions & Statues Involved 

  1. Article 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Remedies for Enforcement of Rights.
  2. Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860- Punishment for Murder
  3. Section 120B of Indian Penal Code, 1860- Punishment for Criminal Conspiracy
  4. Section 308 of Indian Penal Code, 1860- Attempt to Commit Culpable Homicide
  5. Section 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860- Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention
  6. Section 448 of Indian Penal Code, 1860- Punishment for House Trespass
  7. Vicarious Liability under Law of Torts

Judgement of the Case 

The judgement was pronounced by a two-judge bench on December 14, 1989. Looking at various reports and judgements, the Court found that the State is vicariously responsible for the tortious acts done by its employees, as in this case, the S.H.O. Lal Singh. The Court pronounced a compensation amount of Rs. 75,000 to Kamlesh Kumari, the mother of the deceased child who was a victim of battery, assault, false imprisonment, physical injuries, and death. This amount had to be paid by the Delhi Administration, respondent no. 2 within a period of four weeks from the date of this judgement. The Court states that the compensation amount was for the mental pain, distress, indignity, loss of liberty, and death because of the officers. The Court further added that the Delhi Administration shall be responsible to recover the compensated amount from the responsible officers. Further, the Court added that since the police officers were not a party to the case, no observation can be used for the criminal case against them. 

In this case, the Court has referred to many precedents, without which the delivery of justice would be impossible. The Court relied upon the judgement in the case Joginder Kumar v. State of Punjab[6]. In this case, the Court observed that in the cases of torts committed by its employees, it is well settled by law that the State is liable for the acts committed by its employees in the course of their employment. Another case of State of Rajasthan v. Ms. Vidhyawati[7] was helpful for the Court to determine the compensation amount of Rs. 75,000 to be paid to the mother. In another case, People’s Union of Democratic Rights v. Police Commissioner, Delhi Police Headquarters[8], the Court directed the Delhi administration to pay a compensation amount of Rs. 50,000 to a laborer who was working in a police station and was severely beaten to death. 

Analysis of the Judgement

This case was a landmark case in respect to compensations in writ courts. Though the victim had to suffer a lot and had to knock the doors from one court to another, in the end when the case reached Apex Court, she was capable of seeking justice. The Court also mentioned that such compensation was only an action to recompense the bodily harm, mental pain, indignity, distress, and the loss of her child. The Court further asked to pay the compensation amount from the public funds immediately and ordered to recover the same from the errant officers, which was usually expended from the taxpayer’s money. Usually, the compensation amount for wrongful acts done by any government officials was paid by the money of taxpayers.  

However, in this case, the Apex Court held in abeyance the interpretation of common law of torts and interpreted the same concerning constitutional law of torts. 

Thus, this case shows that even if the administrative or other functionaries fail to do their duties or abuse their power, the judiciary will take cognizance of the same and provide the necessary relief for the people who have suffered. 

Conclusion

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fall in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Martin Luther King

The duty of the police is primarily because they are the first persons of contact with the citizens and they have to preserve the order and prevent crime in the society. Rule of law is an important part of basic structure doctrine and every authority governed by the Constitution must remember this fundamental principle, stating that no person is above the law and every person is equal before the law. In case, any basic human right is infringed by an official, the State shall be legally responsible for the same. In this case, the lady was not even acknowledged by the police who are responsible for protecting the civilians. They rather abused their power by killing a seven-year-old child who was trying to save his mother from being beaten up and molested.  It is high time that the police actually stop misusing their power, sometimes for custodial violence or third-degree methods of reckless killings. The law has the power to keep a check on the police authorities and they must be checked upon their illegal actions, otherwise we are not far from the day when the public will start losing faith in this organ of the government and start finding ruthless solutions on their own. 

The law has started taking this issue seriously and has observed certain facts in the 113th Law Commission Report on Injuries Sustained in Police Custody. The report has clearly mentioned that the powers of the police need to be restricted, as they do not appreciate the scope of their powers over solving a crime, rather focus on increasing crimes to fill their pockets.   

Thus, there is an urgent need to keep a check on some of the organs of the Government, otherwise it would not be a surprise that people will stop seeking help from the police and take the matters in their own hands. 


[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, s. 448.

[2] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, s. 302.

[3] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, s. 120B.

[4] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, s. 308.

[5] The Indian Penal Code, s. 34.

[6] 1994 AIR 1349.

[7] 1962 AIR 933.

[8] 1990 ACJ 192.

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