Cite specific incidents of authoritarian excess, says SC

A group of young lawyers approaches it on “indiscriminate arrests” during lockdown

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked a group of young lawyers, who highlighted the ‘indiscriminate’ arrests of “tens of thousands of petty traders, pedestrians, cyclists” during the lockdown, to file a fresh petition mentioning specific incidents of authoritarian excess.

The lawyers had based their case on a survey but a Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde said the court needed a concrete case to take judicial action.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for petitioners led by Ameya Bokil, was allowed to withdraw the petition with liberty to file afresh citing specific incidents.

The petition said it had surveyed the prison websites of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Maharashtra and their inmate population during the pandemic.

“There was a very high rate of FIRs and arrests for minor, low-risk lockdown related offences… 24.5% of all arrested persons were Muslims,” the petition referred to the survey on Madhya Pradesh.

There was no discernible reduction in the prison population though the apex court had itself taken suo motu cognisance of the issue. The court had, at the time, even appointed a committee to de-congest the prisons, fearing that jails would spawn widespread infection both inside and outside.

The petition urged the court to restrain the police from arresting people involved in offences with imprisonment up to seven years.

Mr. Gonsalves referred to the court’s judgment in the Arnesh Kumar case, which had barred the police from arresting and Magistrates concerned from authorising detention in a mechanical fashion. This should especially be complied with in relation to offences punishable by imprisonment for a term up to seven years or less, the Arnesh Kumar verdict had noted.

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