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Kerala Union of Working journalist v/s Union of India

Kerala Union of Working journalist v. Union of India[1], Supreme Court of India, Writ Petition (Crl.) No(s). 307 OF 2020, Bench- Chief Justice N V Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice A S Bopanna

Summary
Kerala Union of Working Journalist v. Union of India is a case which covers the ambit of Right to life against undertrial prisoners.

As per 78th Report of Law Commission of India, "an undertrial prisoner is a person who has been detained in prison during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial for the offence they are accused to have committed".[2]

The writ of Habeas corpus is issued by Supreme Court under article 32 of Indian constitution and Article 226 of Indian Constitution by High Courts[3]. The term in Latin means, "let us have the body"[4]. This writ is issued in order to set free a person who in opinion of the court is arbitrary arrested or detained by executionary authority.

According to the opinion of the Court, "the Fundamental Right to life embraces undertrial prisoners as well."

Background of the case
Under article 32 of Indian Constitution, writ of Habeas Corpus was filed for the release of alleged detenu, Sidhique Kappan who is stated to be a journalist and a member of the Petitioner Association- Kerala Union of Working journalist. He was arrested as per the section 153A, 295A and 124A of IPC 1860, section 17, 14 of unlawful Activity Prevention Act, 1967 and sections 65, 72, 76 of IT Act, 2008.

It was contested that he was illegally taken into custody on October 5, 2021 without any prior notice or order as per the procedure envisaged in Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 under section 107. On November 20, 2020, State of UP contested the allegations of illegal detention by issuing counter affidavit, also on December 9, 2020 supplementary affidavit was filed stating the detention of alleged detenu was lawful as he was booked under the section 153A, 295A and 124A of IPC 1860, section 17, 14 of unlawful Activity Prevention Act, 1967 and sections 65, 72, 76 of IT Act, 2008.[5]

Meanwhile petitioner subsequently filed an application for interim directions amid Sidhique Kappan's deteriorating health. Also, by the time detenu tested covid positive on April 21, 2021 and it was revealed by the "bed head ticket" that he had multiple other diseases like, diabetes, heart ailment, blood pressure and bodily injury. Although, an additional affidavit was issued stating that tested negative for covid.

It was stated by the Court, that the inquiry will be limited to providing the necessary health care to the accused in line to limited relief as from the records, it was clear that the accused was produced before jurisdictional court, FIR was registered, investigation is completed and a voluminous charged sheet had been filed. Also, the alleged has other remedies like right to approach competent court for grant of bail or redressal of grievances under section 482 Cr.P.C.

Court held that owing to the precarious health condition of detainee, he shall receive adequate and effective medical assistance. Although Solicitor General emphasized that he already receives medical facilities as all other jail inmates. Herein, Supreme Court stated that merely other jail inmates are also receiving similar treatment is no excuse.

Right to life unconditionally embraces even an undertrial. The court quashed writ petition stated that as soon as he recovers, he shall be transfer back to the Mathura jail although, he can avail other remedies in accordance to law i.e., granting bail or quashing chargesheet.

Facts in issue:
  • Maintainability of petition
  • Interim direction and release on bail due to deteriorating health condition

Ratio Decidendi
The Court stated the legal issues will not be examined but the enquiry will be based on providing necessary health care in line with adequate relief. Respondents' argument that other detainee receive similar medical aid cannot deter the court, although accused can avail remedies in accordance with law. Fundamental Right to life embraces every person. Thus, in accordance to it, the pertinent legal care and adequate relief shall be provided to undertrial prisoners as well.

Arguments
Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta appeared for the State of Uttar Pradesh contested that Siddique Kappan received medical aid similar to other jail inmates.

Judgement
It was held by the Supreme Court of India that "the most precious fundamental 'right to life' unconditionally embraces even an undertrial. The consideration made herein is keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case. Merely because the other jail inmates are receiving treatment similar to the arrestee need not deter us."

Observation
The Court observed that, Siddique Kappan was not illegally detained, proper investigation, chargesheet were filed thus court did not intervene and examined the detailed facts and focused only in line with adequate health care and relief to the accused. Meanwhile, he was diagnosed covid positive. Also, his medical report suggest that he has diabetes, heart ailment, blood pressure and bodily injury although, later by the additional affidavit, it was said that he is covid negative.

Mere fact that other jail inmates receives similar aid cannot deter court. Herein, right to life embraces undertrial prisoners as well. Thus, he shall be shifted to government Hospital for proper medication. As and when doctors certify him fit, he should be shifted back to the jail and can avail the remedies as stated in the law.

Conclusion
In Kerala Union of Working Journalist v. Union of India, at the end it was held that even undertrials are subject to fundamental Right to life. They are entitled to receive adequate medical aid and reliefs pertinent to their needs.

End-Notes:
  1. 21729_2020_31_16_27786_Order_28-Apr-2021.pdf (sci.gov.in)
  2. https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/51-100/Report78.pdf
  3. Types of Writs in Indian Constitution - Polity Notes (byjus.com)
  4. What is Habeas Corpus and how to use it - iPleaders
  5. 7026de_c8b123c5371b423990783d128f58c9e6.pdf (usrfiles.com)


Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Navya Jain

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