In Pravat Chandra Mohanty and Ors v State of Orissa (CRA No. 207/210 of 1988), the Orissa High Court has directed two ex-police officers to serve simple imprisonment for a month for offences of acting in furtherance of a common intention and voluntarily causing hurt under the Indian Penal Code.
Simple imprisonment of one year has also been imposed on the appellants for voluntarily causing hurt by deadly weapons under the Code. They have also been directed to serve simple imprisonment for another three months for fraudulently using forged documents.
Further, Justice S.K Sahoo directed the the State Government to pay Rs.3,00,000/- in favour of the legal representatives of the deceased within a period of one month from the date of this judgment, i.e. November 9, 2020.
Senior Advocate Yasobant Das and Devasish Panda appeared for the appellants. Additional Government Advocate Lalatendu Samantaray represented the State.
Observing that it is a thirty-two-year-old case of custodial violence, the court said, “Custodial violence on a person which may sometimes lead to his death is abhorrent and not acceptable in a civilised society and it is a crime against humanity and a clear violation of a person’s rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
“Police excesses and maltreatment of detainees, under trial prisoners or suspects tarnishes the image of any civilised nation. Stern measures are required to be taken to check the malady against those police officials who consider themselves to be above the law and bring disrepute to their department, otherwise the foundations of the criminal justice delivery system would be shaken and common man may lose faith in the judiciary”, Justice Sahoo added.
Referring to the Supreme Court judgment Nilabati Behra (smt) @ Lalita Behra v State of Orissa 1993 (2) SCC 746, where the top court opined that even convicts, prisoners and undertrials cannot be denuded of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Orissa High Court noted, “Act of custodial violence reflects tragic state of affairs indicating the apparent disdain of the State to the life and liberty of individuals, particularly those in custody and relief could be moulded by granting compensation to the next of kin of the deceased.”
Matter before the court
The Single-judge Bench was hearing criminal appeals by former inspector and senior sub inspector in a case pertaining to a person’s custodial death during an illegal confinement at Purighat police station in Cuttack in 1985.
In August 1988, the Assistant Sessions Judge -cum- Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Special), Cuttack had convicted the appellants for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the Indian Penal Code and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment for five years and eight years respectively.
They were also sentenced to a maximum sentence of three years rigorous imprisonment for offences of fraudulent preparation of FIR, wrongful confinement and voluntarily causing hurt.
Both appellants had filed criminal appeals in the High Court of Orissa and were subsequently released on bail in August and September, 1988.
Keeping in mind the age of the appellants and that “occurrence in question took place thirty five years back and the appellants must have suffered immense mental agony and pain facing criminal proceeding for a considerable period”, the court acquitted both officers of charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and reduced the maximum sentence of three years rigorous imprisonment to one year simple imprisonment for other charges.
On the issue of why the imposition of sentence was necessary, Justice Sahoo opined, “One of the prime objectives of criminal law is the imposition of adequate, just, proportionate punishment which is commensurate with the gravity and nature of the crime and manner in which the offence is committed. The quantum of sentence imposed should not shock the common man. It should reflect the public abhorrence of the crime. The Court has a duty to protect and promote public interest and build up public confidence in efficacy of rule of law.”
Accordingly, their criminal appeals were disposed of and were directed to surrender before the learned trial Court within two weeks from the date of the judgment for undergoing the remaining period of sentence.
The judgment may be read here: