On Monday (March 20), a Supreme Court bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit set aside the Orissa high court’s order of paying Rs 20 lakh compensation to a 39-year-old prisoner, who was kept in custody for seven long years in the district jail at Sambalpur, after the high court acquitted him.
Duleswar Barik was convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in 2004 for murdering six people in 2003, although he suffered from insanity.
In 2007, the Orissa high court set aside Barik’s conviction and death sentence, and directed that he be examined by an expert, preferably a professor from the psychiatry department at any government medical college or hospital in the state, and that if it was certified that it was safe to set him free, he could be set at liberty immediately. The high court also held that if the expert found otherwise, then Barik should be rendered necessary treatment as an indoor patient in any of the medical colleges or hospital.
On April 17, 2015, the high court observed in its judgment that there was absolutely no necessity to curtail Barik’s liberty and confine him in jail custody in ward no. 11 with other convicts for so many years, which was completely contrary to its 2007 judgment and order of acquittal.
The high court had noted that the suggestions of medical experts on numerous occasions to take Barik to Bengaluru’s NIMHANS for a final opinion on his condition, was not carried out by the state. “A person like the petitioner although may be suffering for some mental ailment for some time, once cured and acquitted by a Court of law, could not have been confined in jail by any stretch of imagination,” the high court had observed.
The high court had expressed its anguish over the manner in which the state had treated Barik when it sought its production in the court during the proceedings. Although the high court had directed the police to take him to the Cuttack deputy commissioner of police who would make proper arrangements for his stay till his production in the court, Barik was taken to Lalbag Police Station and kept there throughout the night. The high court, therefore, expressed its dismay that the state did not keep him at a more dignified place.
Holding that personal liberty under Article 21 of the constitution means freedom from physical restraint of person from any incarceration or otherwise, the high court added that it means a corpus free of all shackles.
The high court observed:
“The petitioner lost prime period of his life behind the bars. He was acquitted by the judgment of this Court on 19.09.2007, but even thereafter he remained behind the bars for about seven years. He was not a free man till he was finally released on 3.9.2014 as per our orders. He is an educated man who has read upto graduation. He is the only son of his aged parents who was illegally robbed off with the love and affection of his family and friends for such a long tormented period. He is now also interested in a job. It cannot be said that since the petitioner is poor, his compensation should also be poorly assessed. It cannot be gainsaid that if the petitioner would have been allowed to become free earlier, he could have established himself as an important member of the community in the meantime and would have recovered much more quicker in a caring and healthy atmosphere and we are of further view that the State is liable to pay compensation for the illegal and unjustified detention of the petitioner, Duleswar Barik inside jail barrack.”
The high court made it clear that in 2007 it did not direct keeping the petitioner in jail custody even if the expert had given a negative opinion about his release.
On Monday, March 20, the Supreme Court found merit in the state government’s view that it was not at fault and Barik was kept in prison for treatment in pursuance of the high court’s order and that there was no justification for granting compensation to him.
The Supreme Court held in its order:
“After acquittal on account of insanity, High Court itself directed that till medical opinion allowed his being set free, he should be treated without being freed from custody”.
The high court’s judgment, however, suggests the contrary.