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Two women in T.N. languish in jail illegally for four months owing to bureaucratic delay

The Madras High Court has directed the State government to pay a compensation of ₹10 lakh to two women who were branded as bootleggers and detained illegally for over four months due to the delay in receipt of files from the office of Minister V. Senthil Balaji after an Advisory Board did not find sufficient cause for their preventive detention.

Justices S. Vaidyanathan and A.D. Jagadish Chandira ordered that ₹5 lakh each should be paid to M. Muthulakshmi, 38, and S. Sathiya, 34, of Nagapattinam district within six weeks. The orders were passed while disposing of habeas corpus petitions challenging the preventive detention orders passed by the Collector on January 28.

When the HCPs were listed for hearing on July 21, an Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) informed the court that an Advisory Board, constituted under the preventive detention Act, had found that there was no sufficient cause for their detention and therefore, the detention orders passed by the Collector had been revoked by the government.

However, the petitioners’ counsel K.A.S. Prabhu told the court that revocation orders had not been served upon the two women and that they continued to be in detention. In view of he seriousness of the claim, the judges directed the APP to obtain necessary instructions by July 25 when revocation orders dated July 22 were produced.

A perusal of those orders revealed that the Advisory Board had opined against the detention as early as on March 15 and yet the government had taken 128 days to issue the revocation orders. Shocked, the judges ordered immediate release of the two women and called for an explanation for the exorbitant delay of over four months.

The government initially filed a non-speaking affidavit on July 28 without disclosing any reason for the delay. After being directed to file a better affidavit, the court was told that the Advisory Board’s March 15 order was received by the government on March 16 and approved by the Under Secretary and Deputy Secretary on the same day.

The file was circulated to the Minister for Electricity, Prohibition and Excise on March 16 and the latter approved it on March 17 but the file was received by the Home, Prohibition and Excise department only on July 22. Departmental action was initiated against a Section Officer and Assistant Section Officer for failing to get back the file on time.

“The sequence of events in the case on hand reveals beyond any doubt that it is a classic case of bureaucratic lethargy and slumber, which has played a lot in depriving the personal liberty of a citizen guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the judges said and pointed out that the detention order ought to have been revoked in March itself.

Observing that “no freedom is higher than personal freedom and no duty is higher than to maintain it unimpaired,” the Division Bench lamented that the detention order was revoked on July 22 only after the court heard the habeas corpus petitions filed by the husband and daughter of the two women and sought explanation on July 21.

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