Mumbai: Stopping short of passing strictures, the Bombay High Court has reprimanded the Maharashtra Home Secretary for not deciding an appeal on a date fixed by the court and not conducting himself "fairly and impartially".
Taking a severe note of Home Secretary (Special) Vineet Agarwal`s conduct, a bench of justices SC Dharmadhikari and GS Patel set aside and quashed an externment order passed on July 5 against Sangli district resident Vinayak Mainkar.
The judges were angry to learn that Mainkar and his lawyer NN Gawankar were made to wait endlessly in Agarwal`s office to hear their appeal against the externment order. When their turn came after a few hours, the lawyer was asked not to keep the files on the table and he had to hold them in his lap, the bench noted.
"The officer was required to decide the appeal on August 27 itself as directed by the court and not to exercise his liberty to postpone it to some other date (September 21). Equally appalling is his treatment to petitioner`s advocate appearing before him," the bench said.
"He (Agarwal) was expected to put aside any feelings of bitterness and to conduct himself fairly, impartially and without rancour. He did not. This is not how appellate proceedings in any matter, and most especially in matters affecting personal liberty and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, are to be handled," it remarked.
In his appeal, Mainkar argued that he was never served with the two show cause notices. "This is fatal in itself. Worse yet, the externment order refers to two in-camera witness statements. Neither show cause notice mentions these," the judges noted.
"The externment authority refers to so-called written statements of some other dates. These, the petitioner says, are not his. The authorities seem to have picked up someone else`s statements," they said.
The judges were also angry with the appellate orders
passed by the Home Secretary and said they reflected a formulaic approach involving a cut and paste job.
"Stock phrases are used, even entire paragraphs, regardless of the merits of the matter," the bench said.
"It pains us to note that such orders betray the call of the assigned duty. None is greater victim of these appellate orders than the State itself and its police machinery.
"There may well be cases where an order of externment is warranted and, if properly handled in appeal, might even be sustained. Time and again, the cavalier and blithe-spirited approach to both facts and law in the orders of 3rd respondent (Home Secretary) renders this impossible," the bench remarked.
"We note this not in any anger, but with acute distress and sorrow, for we believe every person is entitled to expect, even demand, greater care and caution while dealing with matters that effect personal liberty," the judges said.
The bench also said that they considered passing strictures against the officer concerned, of having these noted in his confidential reports, and even imposing costs to be borne by him personally. The judges said they also considered that he may divested of the present assignment.
"At our request, Agarwal was present in the court when we expressed our views. We are satisfied, for the moment that we have made matters clear to him and, equally, that he has understood us completely."
"At this stage we do not wish to sully the officer`s record or visit him with penalties or strictures. We are confident in future he would show care and circumspection while deciding appeals in externment cases," the bench noted.