The Bombay High Court on Friday directed the Maharashtra government to pay Rs 2 lakh to a Nigerian man jailed since October 2020 on the basis of an erroneous forensic report, and to recover the amount from the errant officer of a forensic science laboratory.
While granting bail to the Nigerian man held allegedly with cocaine and ecstasy tablets by the Anti-Terrorism Squad, a single-judge bench of Justice Bharati H Dangre on Wednesday asked the home department to find a way to compensate him as he was later found not to have carried any banned substance. The judge also said he would otherwise announce the compensation on Friday.
After the bench wanted an immediate response on Friday, the government counsel, A A Takalkar, submitted that there was no policy to compensate foreign nationals and that the home department would investigate the forensic official’s role.
“So you can keep people behind bars and not give compensation just because there is no policy? When it comes to depriving a person of fundamental rights, do you require a policy?” Justice Dangre said. He also asked what was there to be inquired into now that the forensic lab in Kalina, Mumbai, had written to police admitting its official’s mistake.
Takalkar said the accused “has an antecedent” and the same official had given a report in the previous case as well. “So an enquiry will be done to see if this report has been planted, ” he said.
Justice Dangre then directed the government to recover Rs 2 lakh from the errant official and give the amount to the Nigerian man, saying, “The officer says that he has made a mistake. After 22 months he realised his mistake and you want to say that the officer has been planted?”
After his arrest on October 23, 2020, the forensic laboratory gave a report in February 2021 stating that the seized substance contained narcotics, following which a chargesheet was filed in a trial court.
The official issued a corrigendum on August 4, 2022, saying he had made “typing mistake” while preparing the report and that the seized substance did not fall under the purview of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
Justice Dangre termed the Nigerian man’s incarceration as “unlawful”. “The error which is sought to be explained and projected as a typing error is a blatant mistake, which is admitted by the FSL official after more than a year of the incarceration of the applicant. It deserves to be looked at seriously. But for the said report, the applicant could not have been detained,” he said.