The Supreme Court Wednesday said that the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under the constitution was available not only to the people of India but also to foreign nationals present on its soil at any given point of time.
Referring to the Article 21 of the Constitution which says, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law", a bench of Justice A.K.Patnaik and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that "person" in Article 21 was not just the citizen of this country but any person present in it.
"Article 21 of the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law and the word 'person' is wide enough to cover not only the citizens (of this country) but also the foreigners," said Justice Patnaik while quashing an FIR against three Ugandan nationals.
The Ugandan nationals whose passports were impounded and their movement restricted by Mumbai police included advocate Isaac Isanga Musumba, a former minister of state for finance and planning (2001-2006) and foreign affairs (2006-2011) in the east African country, Ugandan MP Mawanda Michael Maranga, and businessman Magoola Matthias.
While Musumba has a diplomatic passport, Mawanda Michael Maranga carried an official passport and Magoola Matthias an ordinary Ugandan passport.
Noting that there was a business transaction between Matthias and the Videocon group, Justice Patnaik, in an indictment of Mumbai police, said: "Mumbai police instead of protecting the liberty of Ugandan nationals, acted on the FIR."
"For few acts of such officers, the country gets a bad name," he observed, dismissing the plea by the Maharashtra government's counsel that Mumbai police acted in a bonafide manner.
Taking Mumbai police to task, the court directed the release of the passport of the three Ugandan nationals immediately.
The matter is rooted in the alleged transfer of mining leases by DEI Minerals International Limited to Videocon Natural Resources PLC with the latter enjoying exploration rights. The petitioner had alleged that Videocon Natural Resources PLC had allegedly backed out from its contractual commitments.
Appearing for the petitioners, counsel Manali Singhal said that the impugned FIR was manifestly malafide and was an abuse of process of law for prosecuting the Ugandan nationals.
Assisted by counsel Nikhil Jain, Singhal told the court that the Ugandan nationals were aggrieved by the continued restraint on their liberty without issuance of any formal arrest warrants.
She told the court that the lookout circular that had been issued against the three Ugandans was "another colourable exercise of police powers smeared with malice, ill-will and grossly spiteful, prejudicing thereby fundamental and human rights of the petitioners".