To invoke a public detention law against someone, it is not enough that his/her actions pose a threat to law and order but must affect the public order, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, quashing the detention of a man — “a habitual fraudster” — under the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, 1986.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Hrishikesh Roy said that a liberal meaning cannot be given to the expression public order in the context of preventive detention statute.
To argue so “is wholly inapposite and incorrect”, the court said, adding that “on the contrary, considering that preventive detention is a necessary evil only to prevent public disorder, the Court must ensure that the facts brought before it directly and inevitably lead to a harm, danger or alarm or feeling of insecurity among the general public or any section thereof at large”.
The court said that in the case before it, “it is clear that at the highest, a possible apprehension of breach of law and order can be said to be made out if it is apprehended that the Detenu, if set free, will continue to cheat gullible persons. This may be a good ground to appeal against the bail orders granted and/or to cancel bail but certainly cannot provide the springboard to move under a preventive detention statute”.
The bench said that “while it cannot seriously be disputed that the Detenu may be a ‘white collar offender’ as defined under… the… Act, yet a Preventive Detention Order can only be passed if his activities adversely affect or are likely to adversely affect the maintenance of public order”.
Underlining what constitutes law and order and public order, the bench said “there can be no doubt that for ‘public order’ to be disturbed, there must in turn be public disorder. Mere contravention of law such as indulging in cheating or criminal breach of trust certainly affects ‘law and order’ but before it can be said to affect ‘public order’, it must affect the community or the public at large”.
The charges of cheating against the detenu fall in the realm of law and order, the court said, adding that “a close reading of the Detention Order would make it clear that the reason for the said Order is not any apprehension of widespread public harm, danger or alarm but is only because the Detenu was successful in obtaining anticipatory bail/bail from the Courts in each of the five FIRs” against him.
The remedy in such situations is to seek cancellation of bail and not preventive detention, the court said, adding the elements required for invoking such detention “is…totally absent in the facts of the…case”.
The SC was hearing an appeal filed by the wife of the detenu against the Telangana HC order which dismissed her petition challenging the detention order.
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