Srinagar, September 25: The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court issued a ruling on Friday stating that law enforcement must strictly abide by the guidelines in the Police Rules when opening or keeping history sheets, and that a history sheet can only be opened when the authority feels that the person is a habitual offender.
In his ruling, Justice M. A. Chowdhary said that authorities must not base their choices on their whims or personal opinions, but rather on reason and justice, and they must follow the law and established processes to avoid making conclusions that are arbitrary, hazy, or outlandish.
The criteria for opening a history sheet is the subjective satisfaction of the authority, and it must be determined on the basis of a reasonable belief or knowledge that the person for whom the history is opened or retained is habitually addicted to drugs or alcohol, or aids or abets the commission of crime, whether convicted or not, etc. Authorities must use their discretion in accordance with the principles of justice and reason, not with their own preferences or sense of humour. It must be lawful, regular, and not arbitrarily imprecise or imaginative, and it must be exercised only to the extent that an honourable individual qualified to hold office could do so.
The decision was reached in response to a petition that aimed to have a “Verification of Character and Antecedents Certificate” that listed him as a history-sheeter and under surveillance as of November 19, 2022, quashed.
The petitioner is a well-known politician who stood for office in the State Legislative Assembly Elections in 2014. He claimed that the police’s actions were unjustified and hurtful to his image.
The petitioner contended that the labelling of him as a history sheet in the certificate was unfair and needed to be revoked since several cases had been filed against him as part of a political vendetta, the majority of which resulted in his acquittal.
The petitioner also said that the history-sheeter certificate has serious negative effects on him, including social exclusion and police monitoring, and he is subject to these repercussions. He pleaded that the designation of historian should only be supported by strong evidence.
However, the respondents countered that the petitioner was a menace to public order because of his involvement in several criminal cases, including major felonies like theft and rape.
The response said that the petitioner’s history sheet had been opened to follow his actions and stop additional criminal activity. It was further stated that opening a history sheet is about profiling a person’s criminal past and that it is irrelevant whether a person is found not guilty or guilty.
The petitioner’s participation in several incidents, according to the respondents, warrants starting a history sheet to monitor criminal activity in the neighbourhood.
However, Justice Chowdhary pointed out that Rule 702 of the Police Rules, 1960, mandates that the decision to open a history sheet should be taken by experienced officers after due consideration and deliberation.
The court remarked, “The Police Rules also do not leave matters at the sole discretion of any one police officer, as the same is required to be dealt with by the senior officers as well. Justice Chowdhary also stressed that the preparation of a history sheet should not be a mechanical exercise but rather a deliberate decision based on reasonable grounds. No relevant material should be disregarded, and all materials must be taken into account. Being levelled by a history sheeter as having a severe and unfavourable effect on a person, such a power should be used with prudence and responsibility. There must be a thoughtful choice made, offering grounds that should indicate application of mind to such materials.
Law enforcement authorities must use this authority responsibly and with prudence, the Court emphasised, keeping in mind fundamental rights, notably the right to privacy protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
It goes without saying that everyone wants to live with dignity and cannot be unjustly condemned. Also to be kept in mind is the fact that alienation between family members of the history-sheeted individual in social settings, etc., is rather prevalent in modern culture. Since this infringes on a person’s right to privacy, accessing or maintaining history sheets must be done rigorously while complying with the police guidelines and having in mind the goal that is being pursued, the bench said.
The court determined that the petitioner cannot be classified as a chronic criminal since four of the five instances brought against him ended in acquittals and one was not proven. It concluded that the petitioner’s basic rights under Article 21 were breached when the history sheet was opened. The bench argued that the opening of the petitioner’s history sheet against him violated his basic right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and that it also seemed that the history sheet had not been opened in line with the relevant police norms.
The court granted the petition after hearing from the petitioner and respondent, and it also ordered that the history file that had been opened against him be closed.