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SC Urges Police In All States, UTs Not To Make Mechanical Entries In History Sheets Based On Caste

It must be stated before stating anything else that while not shying away at all from confronting the ruthless, rampant and raw discrimination perpetrated on most flimsy grounds of caste etc, the Supreme Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Amanatullah Khan Vs The Commissioner of Police, Delhi & Ors in SLP (Crl.) No.5719/2023) and cited in Neutral Citation No.: 2024 INSC 383 that was pronounced as recently as on May 7, 2024 in the exercise of its criminal appellate jurisdiction has taken suo motu cognisance of mechanical entries in history sheets prepared by the police made against innocent individuals who hail from socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. We need to note here that a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Mr Justice KV Visvanathan in this leading case decided to broaden the scope of proceedings in the case of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) named Mr Amanatullah Khan challenging the decision of the Delhi Police to list him as a ‘bad character’ and to open a ‘history sheet’ against him. We also need to acknowledge that the Apex Court cited certain studies which revealed the police’s prejudicial and atrocious mindset that only serves to reflect in the manner in which the selective mentioning of individuals is done belonging to certain castes.

The Apex Court was at pains to point out that, “It is alleged that the Police Diaries are maintained selectively of individuals belonging to Vimukta Jatis, based solely on caste-bias, a somewhat similar manner as happened in colonial times.” While catching the bull by the horns, the Apex Court thus very laudably directed all the State Governments to take necessary preventive measures to safeguard such communities from being subjected to inexcusable targeting or prejudicial treatment. It is quite refreshing to note that the Apex Court directed in its brilliant order that, “We must bear in mind that these preconceived notions often render them ‘invisible victims’ due to prevailing stereotypes associated with their communities, which may often impede their right to live a life with self-respect.” It was also directed by the top court that a periodic audit overseen by a senior police officer will serve as a critical tool to review and scrutinize the entries made by the police, so as to keep a tab on discriminatory practices against such individuals.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Surya Kant for a Bench of the Apex Court comprising of himself and Hon’ble Mr Justice KV Viswanathan sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 on the facts of the case that, “The appellant approached the High Court of Delhi through a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for quashing of the ‘History Sheet’ opened against him and the proposal to declare him as ‘Bad Character’ with the entry of his name in the Surveillance ‘Register-X, Part II, Bundle A’ at Police Station Jamia Nagar, District: South-East, Delhi. The Single Judge of High Court has, vide the impugned judgment dated 19.01.2023, dismissed the appellant’s writ petition, giving rise to these proceedings.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 3 that, “Upon notice, the Delhi Police entered appearance through Mr. Sanjay Jain, learned senior counsel, who was apprised of some disturbing contents of the History Sheet to the extent it pertained to the school going minor children of the appellant and his wife, against whom there was apparently no adverse material whatsoever for inclusion in the History Sheet. It was then apprised that the format of the history sheeters was prescribed following Rule 23.8 and Rule 23.9 of the Punjab Police Rules 1934 (in short, the “1934 Rules”) as were applicable in the NCT of Delhi. Mr. Jain, learned senior counsel for the respondents, however, fairly agreed to re-visit the archaic rules with a view to ensure that the dignity, self-respect and privacy of the innocent people, who incidentally happen to be the family members of a suspect, is not compromised at any cost.”

As things stands, the Bench states in para 4 that, “Mr. Sanjay Jain, learned senior counsel has today placed on record the amended Standing Order No.L&O/54/2022 issued by the Commissioner of Police, Delhi. The aforesaid Standing Order pertains to ‘Surveillance of History Sheeters and Bad Characters’. It appears that the Original Standing order was issued on 10.06.2022 and paragraph 9(2) thereof titled as “Preparation of History Sheet” was replicated from provisions of the 1934 Rules.”

Do note, the Bench notes in para 5 that, “With the amended Standing Order issued on 21.03.2024, the Commissioner of Police has provided as follows:

“The space for “relation and connection” should be filled in with a view to afford clues about those persons with whom the criminal is likely to harbour when wanted by the police, including relations or friends living at a distance from his home, and his associates in crime, abettors and receivers. It may be noted that the space for “relations and connections” in the history sheet should reflect identities of those persons who can afforded him shelter when the offender is running/wanted by the police (in general) and should include his associates in crime, abettors and receivers (in particular) and no details of any minor relatives i.e. son, daughter, siblings should be recorded anywhere in the History Sheet unless there is evidence that the minor under question can, or has earlier had, afforded shelter to the offender, “while he was on run from police”.

While preparing History Sheet, it may also be kept in mind that as per Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, there is a prohibition on disclosing the Identity of a child in conflict with law or a child in need of care and protection of a child victim or witness of a crime through a report etc. Even though the History Sheet is an internal Police document and not a publicly accessible report, care must be taken that identities of only those minor relatives are entered into the History Sheet against whom evidence exists that minor in question has earlier had, afforded shelter to the offender, while he was on run from police”. In addition to above, the particular nature of each person’s connection should be noted against each, and, when persons shown as connections themselves have history sheets, a cross reference with those History Sheets should be given. Maximum phone numbers/mobile numbers or associates/relatives/acquaintances of BCs should be collected and placed for record. Aadhar Number, EPIC number, e-mail ID, social media accounts/profiles viz, facebook, Instagram ID, Twitter ID etc. to be placed on file. Further mobile numbers & other available details of associates/relatives/acquaintance of BC should be collected and placed on record.””

As it turned out, the Bench discloses in para 6 that, “We find from the amended Standing Order that in the column “relations and connections”, it has been decided that identities of only those persons shall be reflected who can afford the history sheeter/bad character shelter, when the offender is running/wanted by the police and it shall also include names of his associates in crime, abettors and receivers. The amended Standing Order emphatically says that no details of any minor relatives, i.e., son, daughter, siblings shall be recorded anywhere in the History Sheet unless there is evidence that such minor, has or earlier had, afforded shelter to the offender.”

Simply put, the Bench states in para 7 that, “Secondly, the amended provision now mandates that Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 shall be meticulously followed, whereunder there is a prohibition on disclosing the identity of a child in conflict with law or a child in need of care and protection or a child victim or a witness of a crime through a report etc.”

It would be instructive to note that the Bench specifies in para 8 that, “The amended Standing Order further clarifies that ‘History Sheet’ is an internal police document and not a publicly accessible report. It has cautioned the police officers that care must be taken to ensure that identities of only those minor relatives are entered in the History Sheet against whom evidence exists that such minor had earlier afforded shelter to the offender, while he was on the run from the police. The safeguard with regard to the details of phone numbers, Aadhar Card, EPIC number, e-mail I.D., social media accounts etc., have also been suggested in the amended Standing Order.”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 9 that, “It seems that so far as the case in hand is concerned, the decision taken by the respondents to the effect that the History Sheet is only an internal police document and it shall not be brought in public domain, largely addresses the concern expressed by us in the beginning. Secondly, the extra care and precaution, to be now observed by a police officer while ensuring that the identity of a minor child is not disclosed as per the law too, is a necessary step to redress the appellant’s grievances. It will surely prevent the undesirable exposure that has been given to the minor children in this case.”

Further, the Bench states in para 10 that, “All that we propose to direct the police authorities is that the amended Standing Order dated 21.03.2024 be given effect forthwith in the appellant’s case also.”

What’s more, the Bench observes in para 11 that, “In addition, we also direct the Commissioner of Police, Delhi to designate a senior police officer, in the rank of Joint Commissioner of Police or above, who shall periodically audit/review the contents of the History Sheets and will ensure confidentiality and a leeway to delete the names of such persons/juvenile/children who are, in the course of investigation, found innocent and are entitled to be expunged from the category of “relations and connections” in a History Sheet.”

Bluntly put, the Bench directs in para 12 that, “It goes without saying that if a Police Officer of Delhi Police is found to have acted contrary to the amended Standing Order and or the directions given herein above, prompt action against such delinquent officer shall be taken.”

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 13 that, “The impugned judgment of the High Court dated 19.01.2023 stands modified and the instant criminal appeal is disposed of in the above terms.”

Most significantly, what constitutes the cornerstone of this judgment is then encapsulated in para 14 wherein it is expounded that, “Having partially addressed the grievance of the appellant, we now, in exercise of our suo motu powers, propose to expand the scope of these proceedings so that the police authorities in other States and Union Territories may also consider the desirability of ensuring that no mechanical entries in History Sheet are made of innocent individuals, simply because they happen to hail from the socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, along with those belonging to Backward Communities, Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes. While we are not sure about the degree of their authenticity, but there are some studies available in the public domain that reveal a pattern of an unfair, prejudicial and atrocious mindset. It is alleged that the Police Diaries are maintained selectively of individuals belonging to Vimukta Jatis, based solely on caste-bias, a somewhat similar manner as happened in colonial times. All the State Governments are therefore expected to take necessary preventive measures to safeguard such communities from being subjected to inexcusable targeting or prejudicial treatment. We must bear in mind that these pre-conceived notions often render them ‘invisible victims’ due to prevailing stereotypes associated with their communities, which may often impede their right to live a life with self-respect.”

Most remarkably, the Bench then propounds in para 15 that, “The value for human dignity and life is deeply embedded in Article 21 of our Constitution. The expression ‘life’ unequivocally includes the right to live a life worthy of human honour and all that goes along with it. Self-regard, social image and an honest space for oneself in one’s surrounding society, are just as significant to a dignified life as are adequate food, clothing and shelter.”

Most forthrightly, the Bench postulates in para 16 that, “It seems that a periodic audit mechanism overseen by a senior police officer, as directed for the NCT of Delhi, will serve as a critical tool to review and scrutinize the entries made, so as to ascertain that these are devoid of any biases or discriminatory practices. Through the effective implementation of audits, we can secure the elimination of such deprecated practices and kindle the legitimate hope that the right to live with human dignity, as guaranteed under Article 21, is well protected.”

Frankly speaking, the Bench then observes in para 17 that, “We are conscious of the fact that States or Union Territories, other than the NCT of Delhi, are not before us. They have not been heard. No positive mandamus can thus be issued to them. Further, we are not aware of the existing Rules/Policies or Standing Orders in vogue in different States/Union Territories. We, therefore, deem it appropriate, at this stage, to direct all the States/Union Territories to revisit their policy-regime and consider whether suitable amendments on the pattern of the ‘Delhi Model’ are required to be made so that our observations made in paragraphs 14 to 16 of this order can be given effect in true letter and spirit.”

It is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 18 that, “The Registry is, accordingly, directed to forward a copy of this judgement to the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of all States and Union Territories to enable them to consider and comply with what has been held above, as early as possible but not later than six months.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 19 that, “All pending applications, if any, also stand disposed of.”

In conclusion, we thus see that the Apex Court very rightly urges the police in all the States, Union Territories not to make mechanical entries in history sheets based on caste. It thus merits no reiteration that the police must definitely comply with what the Apex Court has held in this leading case so explicitly. No denying it!

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