The Delhi High Court on Thursday said that the police here should take quick action and file complaints before courts concerned in matters concerning the violation of Covid-19 prohibitory orders by citizens.
It said the courts concerned ought to dispose of such matters without further delay. Justice Asha Menon said that to drag such matters over months instead of dealing with them expeditiously, has only led to complications and a colossal waste of time and human resources.
Such violations, the judge noted, were made cognizable to facilitate immediate action by police against a person found disobeying the orders issued in the interest of public health but the offender cannot be subjected to unnecessary harassment and violation of the right to life.
“It would be appropriate for the police to take quick action in all the pending matters relating to violation of orders passed under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 by filing complaints as required under law before the court and the courts ought to dispose of these matters, without further delay,” said the court.
“The offence has been made cognizable only in order to facilitate the police to take immediate action, including the arrest of a person, who is found disobeying the orders issued for maintenance of law and order and in the interest of public health. That purpose cannot be converted into one that subjects the offender to unnecessary harassment and entails the violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, guaranteeing the right to life, of which liberty is an inalienable facet,” it stated.
The court observed that there were “innumerable cases” of people violating norms pertaining to permissible business hours amid the pandemic or wearing masks, which “are all actionable wrongs and need to be dealt with firmly, but it must also be effective”.
The court's order was passed on a petition by a sporting goods retailer seeking the quashing of a 2021 FIR registered under section 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) IPC for allegedly failing to close its showroom as per the orders issued to regulate public activity in order to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
The court refused to grant any relief to the petitioner but said that even after seven months, the case “found no closure when it ought not to have taken even seven days for disposal”.
Stating that the “fault lies in the procedure adopted”, the court observed that although the police have to enforce orders issued in the interest of public health and law and order but an offence under Section 188 IPC “cannot be equated with theft, mischief, cheating, criminal breach of trust, or causing of bodily harm, such as, hurt or attempt to culpable homicide, etc.”
“To drag such matters over months instead of dealing with them expeditiously, by converting the information received into a complaint by the competent public servant, to be placed before the court concerned and disposed of summarily, the registration of the FIR, the issuance of notices under Section 41A Cr.P.C., to appear before the police station, the consequent necessity of filing a Section 173 Cr.P.C. report, have only led to the complication of matters and a colossal waste of time and human resources,” the court observed.
“In fact, the police seem to have gone a little too far in the present case as they have proceeded to issue Notices under Section 41A Cr.P.C. demanding an appearance at the police station. The Noticee stares into the possibility of an arrest on non-compliance, in a case where arrest really is not warranted,” it further said.
The court, while declining to quash the FIR in question, directed the SHO concerned to ensure that the complaint is forwarded to the trial court concerned immediately and inform the petitioner of the date it is required to appear before it for disposal of the case.
These directions, the court said, may be followed with respect of other similar cases under Section 188 IPC.