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Individual Liberty Cannot Be Misused In A Manner That Threatens Fabric Of Society By Attempting To Destabilise It, Cause Hurt: Delhi HC

                                            It must be said right at the outset that the Delhi High Court has as recently as on September 27, 2021 in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Mohd Ibrahim vs State (NCT of Delhi) in Bail Appln. 2704/2021 while denying bail to Mohd Ibrahim in Head Constable Ratan Lal murder case during the North East Delhi riots, the Delhi High Court has minced just no words absolutely to observe clearly, cogently and convincingly that individual liberty cannot be misused in a way that it threatens the fabric of society by attempting to destabilize it or cause hurt to others. It goes without saying that liberty comes with responsibility and if we are not responsible then we cannot blame anyone for curtailing our liberty! It also has to be mentioned here that Justice Subramonium Prasad made the crucial observation while passing order in connection with the murder of Head Constable Ratan Lal and causing head injuries to a DCP during the North-East Delhi riots that rocked the national capital last year.

              To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by a single Judge Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of Justice Subramonium Prasad sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “The Petitioner seeks bail in FIR No.60/2020 dated 25.02.2020 registered at PS Dayalpur for offences under Sections 186/353/332/323/147/148/149/336/427/302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter, “IPC”) and Sections 3/4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 (hereinafter, “PDPP Act”).”

                            Simply put, the Bench then reveals in para 2 that, “The FIR relates to the violence that took place in the National Capital Territory of Delhi in the month of February 2020.”

                         While mentioning about the facts, the Bench then lays bare in para 3 that, “The brief facts leading to the instant Bail Application are that a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (hereinafter, “CAA”) had been taking place for 1.5 months prior to the incident at Khajuri Square to Loni Circle at Wazirabad Road, Chand Bagh near 25 Futa Service Road by the Muslim community.”

         While elaborating further, the Bench then envisages in para 4 that, “It is stated in the instant FIR that the Complainant, i.e. Constable Sunil Kumar, was on duty with the deceased, HC Ratan Lal, and others, namely Giri Chand, Ct. Mahavir, Ct. Jitender, HC Narender, HC Brijesh, W/HC Savitri, as well as DCP Shahdara District Amit Kumar and his staff.”

                             Furthermore, the Bench then enunciates in para 5 that, “It is stated that on 24.02.2020, at about 01:00 PM the protestors had mobilized near the Chand Bagh area and 25 Futa Road, and were moving towards the Main Wazirabad Road. When they assembled near Main Wazirabad Road, it is stated that the Complainant and other police officers present attempted to convince the protestors to not move towards the Main Wazirabad Road, however, it is stated that the protestors were carrying sticks, baseball sticks, iron rods and stones. It is stated that ACP Gokalpuri and DCP Shahdara warned the protestors via loudspeaker of a government vehicle that lack of adherence to legal warnings would necessitate strict action against the crowd. It is stated that some people amongst the crowd started pelting stones at the police officials, and beat them as well as other passersby with aforementioned weapons that had been hidden.”

                                 Going ahead, the Bench then discloses in para 6 that, “It is stated that the Complainant received an injury on his right elbow and right hand due to a huge stone. It is further stated that the crowd even snatched tear gas balls and lathis from the police, and started beating them with it. It is stated that ACP Gokalpuri, HC Ratan Lal and DCP Shahdara Amit Kumar were also beaten with sticks and stones, and as a result, they fell down and suffered grievous head injuries.”

                        Needless to say, the Bench then mentions about the FIR in para 7 that, “The FIR states that post the incident, the protestors fled away and the injured were sent to a hospital, with the Complainant receiving treatment at Panchsheel Hospital, Yamuna Vihar, Delhi.”

                   Moving on, the Bench then reveals in para 8 that, “The Complainant then states that he was informed that HC Ratan Lal had succumbed to a bullet injury, and some other police officers as well as public persons had also suffered injuries. It is stated that the protestors had also set fire to the vehicle of DCP Shahdara and private vehicles of police officers, and also damaged public and private property.”

          Not stopping here, the Bench then also further goes on to add in para 9 that, “It is stated that investigation is now completed and chargesheet has been filed against the Petitioner on 08.06.2020 wherein the Petitioner has been added. The chargesheet states that there is sufficient material to proceed against the Petitioner herein under Sections 186/353/332/323/109/144/147/148/149/153A/188/333/336/427/307/308/302 /201/120-B/34 of the IPC, read with 3/4 of the PDPP Act. Thereafter, supplementary chargesheets were filed on 30.06.2020, 20.08.2020, 17.11.2020 and 30.12.2020.”

                         What’s more, the Bench then quite discernibly makes it known in para 29 that,  “A perusal of the material on record indicates that the Petitioner was added by way of chargesheet dated 08.06.2020 for offences under Sections 186/353/332/333/323/109/144/147/148/149/153A/188/336/427/307/308/302/201/120B/34 IPC, read with Sections 3 and 4 of PDPP Act. The Petitioner was arrested on 07.12.2020 and has been in judicial custody since then.”

               Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 30 that, “It is stated in the chargesheet dated 08.06.2020 that the Petitioner, who is a resident of Mustafabad, was identified on various CCTV footages with a sword in his hand, leading other rioters who were coming from the Mustafabad side. It is also stated that the Petitioner had admitted in his disclosure statement that he had assaulted the police personnel with his sword. Furthermore, the chargesheet reveals that the clothes which were worn by the Petitioner on the day of the alleged incident and were visible on the CCTV footage have been recovered from the house of the Petitioner at his instance. The chargesheet further states that the CDR of the Petitioner places him at the SOC. It also states that the Petitioner was in constant touch with the main organiser-cum-conspirator Suleman Siddiqui. The Petitioner herein has further been identified by Ct. Sunil and HC Tejveer in statements recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. on 26.03.2020 and 31.03.2020.”

                To be sure, the Bench then states in para 31 that, “A perusal of the video footage reveals that the Petitioner, who was wearing a skull cap, black Nehru jacket, and salwar-kurta, was seen on GNCTD Camera ID No.7033301 installed at F 443 Chand Bagh at 12:02:26 PM with a sword in his hand. He was further seen on Camera ID No. 7033302 installed at F 443 Chand Bagh at 12:02:34 PM with a sword in his hand, as well as on Camera ID No. 7033462 installed at F 288 Gali No. 10 Chand Bagh at 12:02:34 PM with the sword in his hand. The learned SPP further submitted that the Petitioner was also seen on Camera ID No. 7033242 installed at F 348 Chand Bagh at 12:03:17 PM, and on Camera ID No. 7033232 installed at F 155 Chand Bagh at 12:04:08 PM.”

                   Truth be told, the Bench then holds in para 35 that, “Therefore, in order to contend the application of criminal conspiracy under Section 120-B and for an indictable offence to be accomplished, there is no requirement for an overt act to be done in furtherance of the conspiracy. It is the common design which gains utmost importance, and the conspiracy is held to be continued and renewed with regard to all its members wherever and whenever any member of the conspiracy acts in furtherance of this common design. There is also emphasis which is placed on the encouragement and support which co-conspirators render to such enterprises because in the absence of the same, accomplishing such a common design would otherwise be impossible. Furthermore, in order to discern the complicity of the accused, one needs to examine the circumstances before, during and after the occurrence.”

                           Quite damningly, the Bench then holds in para 38 that, “A perusal of the material on record has revealed to the Court that the Petitioner has been clearly identified on multiple CCTV footages, carrying a sword and instigating the crowd. The clinching evidence that tilts this Court towards prolonging the incarceration of the Petitioner is that the weapon which is being carried by the Petitioner is capable of causing grievous injuries and/or death, and is prima facie a dangerous weapon. The argument of the Counsel for the Petitioner that the sword being carried by the Petitioner was merely for self-defence of the Petitioner in a bid to protect himself and his family does not hold any water as the video footage places the Petitioner 1.6 kilometres away from his residence and does not reveal any immediate impending harm to the Petitioner.”

                      In addition, the Bench then stipulates in para 39 that, “Furthermore, the Petitioner does not satisfy the ingredients to claim bail on ground of parity with the co-accused of the Petitioner who have been enlarged on bail vide Orders in Bail Appln. 1360/2021 dated 24.05.2021, and Bail Appln. 3550/2021 dated 16.02.2021, and Bail Appln. Nos. 774/2021, 2411/2021, 1882/2021, 2487/2021, 2775/2021 dated 03.09.2021 as, unlike the Petitioner herein, none of the co-accused have been caught with a dangerous weapon capable of inflicting grievous injuries and/or even causing death which indicate that there was in existence a design to commit an offence perpetrating the offences mentioned in FIR No. 60/2020.”

                                    Quite forthrightly, the Bench then while citing the relevant case law holds in para 40 that, “In Ash Mohammad v. Shiv Raj Singh, (2012) 9 SCC 446, while dealing with individual liberty and cry of the society for justice, the Supreme Court has observed as under:

“18. It is also to be kept in mind that individual liberty cannot be accentuated to such an extent or elevated to such a high pedestal which would bring in anarchy or disorder in the society. The prospect of greater justice requires that law and order should prevail in a civilised milieu. True it is, there can be no arithmetical formula for fixing the parameters in precise exactitude but the adjudication should express not only application of mind but also exercise of jurisdiction on accepted and established norms. Law and order in a society protect the established precepts and see to it that contagious crimes do not become epidemic. In an organised society the concept of liberty basically requires citizens to be responsible and not to disturb the tranquillity and safety which every well-meaning person desires.”

                                Without mincing any words, the Bench then quite forthrightly adds in para 41 that, “The riots which shook the National Capital of the country in February 2020 evidently did not take place in a spur of the moment, and the conduct of the protestors who are present in the video footage which has been placed on record by the prosecution visibly portrays that it was a calculated attempt to dislocate the functioning of the Government as well as to disrupt the normal life of the people in the city. The systematic disconnection and destruction of the CCTV cameras also confirms the existence of a preplanned and pre-meditated conspiracy to disturb law and order in the city. This is also evident from the fact that innumerable rioters ruthlessly descended with sticks, dandas, bats etc. upon a hopelessly outnumbered cohort of police officials.”

                                To top it all, the Bench then most significantly is quite forthright in observing in para 42 that, “This Court is of the opinion that even though the Petitioner cannot be seen at the Scene of Crime, he clearly was a part of the mob for the sole reason that the Petitioner had consciously travelled 1.6 kms away from his neighbourhood with a sword which could only be used to incite violence and inflict damage. This Court has previously opined on the importance of personal liberty in a democratic polity, but it is to be categorically noted that individual liberty cannot be misused in a manner that threatens the very fabric of civilised society by attempting to destabilise it and cause hurt to other persons. In light of this, the footage of the Petitioner with the sword is quite egregious, and is therefore sufficient to keep the Petitioner in custody.”

                                       As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 43 that, “In view of the facts and circumstances of the cases, without commenting on the merits of the matter, this Court is of the opinion that the Petitioner is not to be granted bail.”

                     As a no-brainer, the Bench then further holds in para 44 that, “This bail application is, therefore, dismissed, along with the pending application(s), if any.”

                             For the sake of clarity, the Bench then finally holds in para 45 that, “It is made clear that the observations made in this Order are only for the purpose of denial of bail and cannot be taken into consideration during the trial.”

                                In sum, the single Judge Bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad of Delhi High Court by this commendable, cogent, composed and convincing judgment made it absolutely clear that individual liberty cannot be misused in a manner that threatens the very fabric of civilised society by attempting to destabilise it and cause hurt to other persons. If someone still does so as we see in this leading case then the bail application is bound to get dismissed as we see in this notable case also! Very rightly so!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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