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Detention of Manipur activist under NSA: Supreme Court seeks Manipur government reply on compensation

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Manipur government to file its response on granting compensation to political activist Leichombam Erendro, who was released last evening from detention after being booked under the National Security Act for having criticised BJP leaders on use of cow dung and urine as cures for COVID-19.

A bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that it was a serious issue as someone lost his liberty since May and the petitioners have prayed for grant of compensation to Erendro for detention.

The bench said it was issuing notice to the state government and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.

During the hearing, Mehta said that this case was brought to light three months ago and as soon as the state government had noticed the fact, the charges were revoked.

He said the state government has not defended the plea for release of the activist and therefore the matter should be allowed to rest here.

The bench noted Mehta’s submission that Erendro was released in compliance with the interim direction issued on Monday and charges against him under the NSA provision and the detention were revoked.

Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for Erendro’s father who moved the plea, said that his prayer is for compensation as five cases were cited against the activist and no charge sheet was filed in any of them.

The bench said, “We issue notice on the compensation aspect and you (Mehta) can file a reply on this aspect”.

Mehta said that this could have been avoided by a pragmatic approach but he will again urge that the matter should be allowed to rest as the petition was filed after three months.

He said the state will have to satisfy the order on merits and this could have been avoided by a little pragmatic approach.

Farasat submitted that in this case responsibility has to be fixed for the “illegal detention” since May 17.

Mehta said the petitioner is incidental and something else is being done and he would file his reply to the notice.

Erendro was released on Monday evening following the Supreme Court direction to Imphal jail authorities, saying that he cannot be put in jail even for a day.

The top court had said, “Having prima facie considered the contents of the petition, we are of the view that the continued detention of the petitioner before this Court would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution”.

It had said the Manipur government shall comply with the order of this Court on or before 5 pm on Monday.

L Raghumani Singh, Erendro’s father, has challenged the preventive detention of the political activist under the NSA, alleging that it has been done “solely to punish him” for his criticism of BJP leaders purportedly advocating cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19.

The plea claimed that Erendro had on May 13 posted on Facebook that cure for coronavirus is not cow’s dung and urine.

“The statement was made in the context of the death of the President of the Manipur BJP due to COVID-19, as a criticism of the unscientific position taken and misinformation being spread by several BJP politicians regarding cow urine and cow dung being effective in preventing/treating COVID-19,” the plea said, adding that the post was deleted soon after being posted on May 13 itself.

The petition alleged that for this criticism Erendro has spent some days in custody pursuant to criminal cases initiated against him and thereafter in preventive detention after grant of bail.

“The present case is a shocking instance of misuse of preventive detention law to stifle completely innocuous speech that is fully constitutionally protected and was made in public interest – Erendro, a Manipuri political activist, has been preventively detained solely to punish him for his criticism of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for advocating cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19,” the plea alleged.

It has sought quashing of May 17 detention order and the grounds of detention issued by District Magistrate, Imphal West District.

The plea has also sought direction to the concerned authorities to set Erendro, who is the co-convenor of political outfit Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance, at liberty forthwith.

It said that appropriate compensation, including cost of litigation, should be awarded to the petitioner and his son for the alleged illegal detention that Erendro has suffered.

The plea said that four FIRs have been registered against Erendro by Manipur Police.

It said Erendro was arrested on May 13 itself and was remanded to police custody till May 17, the date on which his bail application was to be listed for consideration before the trial court.

It alleged that in anticipation of the trial court’s consideration of the matter and “knowing fully well about the completely flimsy nature of the criminal proceedings”, the district magistrate passed an order for preventive detention under the NSA to “render infructuous the bail” to be granted by the court.

The plea said Erendro was granted bail but was not released due to the detention order.

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