'Boozing in private places is not an offence': Keralite's legal battle behind HC ruling

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The Kerala High Court ruling that consumption of alcohol in private places does not constitute an offence was the culmination of Kasaragod-based Salim Kumar's eight-year-long legal battle.

Kumar's petition, however, was not for the right to consume alcohol in private. His battle was against a false case foisted against him under Section 118(a) of the Kerala Police Act, accusing him of creating ruckus under the influence of alcohol at the Badiyadka police station in 2013. Incidentally, the complainant and witnesses in the case against Kumar were police officers.

Quashing the proceedings in the case against Kumar, the single-judge bench of Justice Sophy Thomas observed that a person could be booked only if he was found intoxicated and in a rioting condition at a public place, and if he was incapable of looking after himself.

"Consuming liquor in a private place without causing nuisance or annoyance to anybody will not attract any offence. The mere smell of alcohol also cannot be construed to mean that the person was intoxicated or was under the influence of any liquor," the court said. Advocates I V Pramod and G Chandramohan appeared for the petitioner in the High Court.  

The case came before the High Court on Kumar's request. He requested the transfer of the case to the High Court when the trial prolonged in the trial court in Kasaragod.

Kumar, a native of Kollam, is currently an employee of the Revenue Department at the Kasaragod Collectorate. He is now a happy man. He spoke to Manorama Online about the case and his legal battle to establish his innocence.

Trouble begins

The incidents that led to the November 10 High Court order had its origins in February 2013, when the village office at Padre, Kasaragod, received a call over the landline. The caller informed the officials about a possible sand smuggling attempt.

"There was a strike that day," Kumar, then a village office assistant, recalled. "My office was at Kattukukke. Padre and Kattukukke are now two separate villages. On receiving the information, the village officer and I left the office, and on the way, we saw the lorry at Mogeru, matching the description passed on to us over the phone, coming from the Karnataka border. When intercepted, the driver locked himself up in the lorry, and rolled up the window.

Subbanna Naik of Perla was the then village officer. We alerted the Badiyadka police, taluk office and collectorate. The police did not turn up even after one hour. Meanwhile, three armed men arrived on a two-wheeler, and started to shower abuses on us. When they tried to attack us, we fled to a nearby hillock, and the lorry went back."

The High Court of Kerala said that an unborn child need not be distinguished from a newborn.

Tryst with police

"We informed the police about the attack. They asked us to personally lodge a complaint at the police station. We reached the station by evening and made the complaint, but the police demanded a written complaint. We relented. Since the village officer was not fluent in Malayalam, I wrote the complaint. I had added a sentence, saying, 'the written complaint submitted as demanded by the police.' The police were not impressed. However, they filed the complaint, and recorded our statements at our office. We gave them the lorry's registration number. The issues started afterwards."

Call from police

"I received a call from the police station around noon on February 26, 2013. They informed me that the lorry and driver were in their custody. They wanted me to visit the station and identify the vehicle and driver. However, I told them I cannot visit the station that day since the village officer was in Thiruvananthapuram for a training programme. Since the village man was also not present that day, I said I cannot close down the office to visit the station. The police replied that they cannot wait for us. I went to the station alone after duty that day, and met the grade sub-inspector. He showed me the vehicle which I identified.

The police tried to create confusion by telling me wrong registration numbers. I told them that I have the video footage. They then asked me to identify the bike those who attacked us have used. The bike was parked outside the police station, and there was a small crowd. I suspected that the police's intention was to show me to the sand mafia. There was an argument with the police."

Complainant becomes the accused

"I went to the station as a representative of the government to present the State's views. The visit was not for personal reasons. The police, however, said no one had attacked us, and we had let the lorry go after receiving a bribe. This also led to an argument. Police had presented three accused at the station. I identified the lorry driver. When I told them that those who had assaulted us were not there, the police became angry and told me that the accused were arrested with much difficulty.

I stood firm on my statement. I questioned why the detained bikes were parked outside the police station. I demanded a copy of the First Information Report. While I was in the sub-inspector's room, two policemen came in, saying I had consumed alcohol. They forcefully made me blow into the breathalyser. They rejected my suggestion to get me checked at the nearby Badiyadka hospital.

They tried to establish that I visited the police station under the influence of alcohol and misbehaved with the sub-inspector. My mobile phone was taken away. They produced a slip, and demanded my signature. I refused since incorrect time was recorded in the slip. A policeman raised his hand to beat me. I was forced to sign the slip under duress. I had gone to the station to identify the accused, but ended up being an accused myself. The police became both the complainant and witness against me.

Meanwhile, the village officer tried to reach me over the phone. The police told him that I had created a ruckus under the influence. He was told that I had used banned tobacco products and collapsed on the floor. The village officer was in Thiruvananthapuram. After he informed our friends, they came to the station and took me out on bail."

Case transferred to High Court

The trial was conducted initially by the First-Class Magistrate Court in Kasaragod. When I collected the information regarding the case, I found that the case number 112-13 against me was registered on February 26, and the date on which the lorry had been confiscated was mentioned as February 27. I had gone to the station to give a statement after the lorry was detained. How could a vehicle I had identified on February 26 could be confiscated on February 27? The contradiction became a talking point. It was also argued that there were no records saying the vehicle had been stolen. The case continued. When it was regularly postponed, I filed a plea requesting the case be transferred to the High Court. It was transferred in 2019.

Raising a stink

The police argued that I was drunk since I reeked of alcohol. The argument was rejected since I was not made to undergo a medical test. Breathalysers are used for checking on public roads. Additionally, the complainant and witnesses were the police. They also failed in producing evidence to establish that I had created a ruckus at the station. The court observed that even if it considered that the plaintiff had consumed alcohol, there was no evidence to prove that he had misbehaved or indulged in riotous behaviour at the police station.


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