New Delhi, Jan 5 (PTI) The competent authority is duty-bound to consider the representation against a detention order expeditiously and the explanation of being pre-engaged with other official work cannot be countenanced in law, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
The court, while dealing with a matter related to an order of preventive detention from July last year issued by the district collector-cum-district magistrate against a man in Tamil Nadu, noted that almost two months were taken by the authority concerned in considering the July 30, 2021 representation against the order.
That is no excuse, a bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and C.T. Ravikumar said after the counsel appearing for the state told the bench that due to the COVID-19 situation, there was a delay in dealing with the matter by the concerned minister.
That the minister was pre-occupied is no defence at all, the top court orally observed, adding: “He can be pre-occupied for a day. He can be pre-occupied for a week. Not for months.”
Even if it may not be a case of lethargy of the competent authority in considering the representation, the time period spent in doing so cannot be countenanced, it said
It does not require almost two months’ time to examine the representation concerning preventive detention of the detenu, the bench said, adding that the detenu be set free forthwith if not required in connection with any criminal case pending against him.
The apex court passed the order on a plea filed by the detainee’s wife who had challenged the order of the Madras High Court from November last year.
The high court, while dismissing the plea filed by her seeking quashing of the detention order, had said that the order passed by the authority warrants no interference.
While dealing with the plea against the high court order, the Supreme Court observed it is an admitted position that the representation of July 30, 2021 was received in the office of the authority on August 18 last year and the minister had cleared the file on October 20.
The bench said the authority must expeditiously deal with the representation in a detention matter.
It observed that the explanation offered by the competent authority, who was called upon to decide the representation is, to say the least, unacceptable .
The apex court said the competent authority is duty bound to consider the representation with utmost dispatch in a matter of detention.
The explanation of being pre-engaged with other official work cannot be countenanced in law, it said, while setting aside the high court order.
During the arguments, the counsel appearing for the petitioner said the detenu is lodged in a jail and the representation sent to the detaining authority was not considered at all.
The counsel argued that there was an inordinate delay in considering the representation sent to the state.
In its order, the high court had noted that on July 20 last year, a preventive detention order was issued under the Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982, popularly known as the Goondas Act/Gundar Sattam in Tamil Nadu.
The high court had noted in its order that the district magistrate of Thanjavur district had filed a counter affidavit before it which stated that the detenu is a history-sheeter and was involved in several cases.
It had also noted that the detenu is a politician and when he was arrested in connection with a case, his followers had ransacked the police station and rescued him from the lock up.