It is always said that young students are the future of our country. Recently, there has been an increase in student activism where students, especially university going students, have started speaking up against malpractices committed by those around them. Popular resentment movements have been organized against measures taken by the government that are oppressive and arbitrary in the opinion of these students. There are multiple instances of movements by students against their college administrations as well. For example, many students organized mass protests and marches against the Jawaharlal Nehru University's decision to increase the hostel fees. With the rapidly rising activism, the Police have also simultaneously started taking actions against these demonstrations. Occurrences of students' arrest are not limited to their participation in these movements but also include situations where police officers use their authority to arrest or proceed against students for sitting in parks with their partners, smoke in public, consume alcohol, breaches of any curfew or lockdown imposed etc. While some of these actions are genuine and lawful, others abuse the police's power.
On many occasions, the Police have registered criminal cases against students, which hampers these students' careers and growth. They cause hardship to innocent students by affecting them emotionally and economically. They may be denied various opportunities on account of a criminal record and may be unable to build a future of their choice. This article lists out the remedies which can be availed by such students against false and frivolous FIRs that are registered by the Police.
How does a criminal record affect the students?
Criminal charges against any person can have a serious impact on their lives, especially in their professional careers, and must not be taken lightly. Many students wish to pursue higher studies abroad, and having any such criminal record drastically reduces their chances of getting into good universities. Criminal convictions negatively reflect upon any opportunities for higher education. As per the data collected by Criminal Watchdog, about 66.4% of university colleges require a declaration of an applicant's criminal records. In such cases, the odds of admission depend upon the gravity of the offence for which the applicant student has been charged or convicted. Generally speaking, charges of violent and sexual offences will lead to rejection, while persons accused of petty offences may be allowed depending upon the circumstances and the desired course. Since foreign studies are usually very expensive, most students seek financial aids through scholarships and loans; having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of obtaining any grants, aids or loans. Furthermore, as students seek housing facilities in or around campus, many people will be less interested in giving housing facility to students accused or convicted of a crime. Difficulties may even arise in the grant of visa application and other clearance by an immigration authority.
A student's past criminal record can impact them when they wish to stay within India. For instance, in the State of West Bengal and ors. v. Nazrul Islam, the Supreme Court has explicitly held that a person accused of any offence or against whom criminal charges have been levied is not eligible for appointment to a government job unless an order of acquittal has been passed. Thus, if any of the students falsely implicated by the Police wish to be in government service, they cannot do so unless they have been acquitted by the Court, which may take years. Some careers require the obtaining of a character fitness certificate before a person can enter into services. For example, law students are required to pass the character fitness test before obtaining their enrollment with the Bar Council. If medical students are charged with a misdemeanour or any offence related to drugs, they can be prohibited from practising medicine altogether. Thus, having any false allegations levied or proved before a court of law can adversely impact a student's career.
Instances of students' arrest by Police
In the past few years, the arrests of many students for participating in protests have come to light. In January 2020, the Hyderabad police registered a criminal case against six students of the University of Hyderabad for attempting to take out a rally. The students alleged that the Police maltreated them, and a complaint was filed without any reason against them. Similarly, Commissioner KT Balakrishna suo motu registered a case for the offence of sedition against students in Bangalore on the basis of a video clip of them holding placards that said 'free Kashmir'. The Delhi police booked some students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University, including Umar Khalid, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly conspiring the communal riots that took place during demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Police Clearance Certificate
>Having criminal cases registered against oneself can also create a hindrance in obtaining a police clearance certificate (PCC). PCC is an official clearance certificate that is issued to a person by the Police. It is mandatory for immigration purposes, especially when one applies to obtain a visa in a foreign country. Such a visa is required when a student wishes to either study further or work in a country other than India. While giving a clearance, the Police scrutinize the record of the concerned individual, including instances of any criminal behaviour or allegations. Sometimes, a PCC is also made a requirement by individual firms or companies seeking to employ a national of a country other than their own. Thus, when students have, in their past, any association with criminal groups or instances of unethical behaviour or false criminal cases lodged against them, they will not be able to pursue a career abroad.
>While the Police has the authority to deny issuing a PCC on the ground of a pending criminal trial, an aggrieved student can file a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution to direct the Police to issue a clearance certificate. In Dr Shahul Hameed Aboobacker v. Regional Passport Officer, it was held that a person could be granted a PCC only in the absence of any adverse information that renders them ineligible for the grant of travel facilities. The pendency of a criminal case is not a reason by itself to render the individual ineligible for grant of travel facilities, and one can obtain the permission of the Court before which the case is pending and then travel abroad.
Remedies against false FIRs lodged by the Police
The police file fIRs only in cognizable cases, i.e. the cases that do not require an arrest warrant from the Magistrate. False lodging of cases by the Police can severely impact a student's life and career and is an outright abuse of power. It is used as a means to suppress the voices of those who are in an inferior position. Once a criminal complaint or an FIR is filed, there is less possibility that the individual will not be proceeded against. Nonetheless, in such situations, a student can take recourse to the following legal remedies:
Quashing of FIR
Under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the High Court has an inherent power to 'pass such orders as are necessary to prevent the abuse of process of the Court or secure the ends of justice'. Section 482 bestows the High Court with wide powers, and the Court has been approached on various occasions to quash frivolous FIRs and complaints filed against persons. The Section does not list out any well-defined grounds for quashing of FIR, but the Courts have evolved various considerations to be looked at in such situations. In Prashant Bharti v. NCT of Delhi, the Court held that in petitions for quashing of FIRs, the Court must ascertain whether the material presented by the accused person is sufficient to persuade any reasonable man to believe that the allegations are false or lack any factual basis. It should also be seen whether the continuance of a criminal case will serve the ends of justice or misuse the process of the Court.
In RP Kapur v. the State of Punjab, it was held by the Apex Court that a criminal proceeding could be quashed if any of the three situations are satisfied, namely, there is a legal bar against the endurance of the proceedings, or the contents of the FIR do not, prima facie, being out a criminal offence or when there is no evidence of the commission of such offences.
A Writ Petition under Article 226
A falsely accused student can also invoke writ jurisdiction of the High Courts for quashing of false complaints or FIRs. A criminal writ petition can be filed before the High Court praying for dismissing the criminal charges. In Kapil Aggarwal v. Sanjay Sharma, the Supreme Court held that if an FIR has been filed only to harass the accused person or is an abuse of the process of Courts or it amounts to pressurizing the accused, the High Courts can exercise their powers under Article 226 of the Constitution or Section 482 of CrPC and quash the criminal proceedings.
Filing a complaint under the Indian Penal Code
Lodging of a false FIR or criminal complaint is an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Both Sections 182 and 211 of IPC deal with filing a false report, but Section 182 applies only to private persons for knowingly providing false information to a public servant, whereas Section 211 can be used to proceed against any person instituting false criminal proceedings against a person. The provision lays down that whoever, with a mala fide intention to cause injury to another institute any criminal proceedings against them when they know that there is no legal or factual ground for such proceeding against the other, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to seven years and be liable to pay fine.
Similarly, under Section 220 of IPC, any person having the legal authority to commit a person to trial or keep them in confinement, corruptly or maliciously keeps them in confinement or commits them for trial and acts contrary to law shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend up to seven years or fine or with both.
Filing of unnecessary and false cases against innocent persons amounts to gross injustice. It causes them to suffer mentally and constitutes a wasteful expenditure. If students are arbitrarily booked for exercising their rights or without any fault, they will be oppressed and denied opportunities to better their futures. This may result in the blocking of several career paths and may impose restrictions on their movement. The law provides remedies to students who are falsely implicated or without any reasonable grounds. It is imperative that abuse of power by the Police must be checked, and innocent persons must be protected.