Mishrilal Jain Vs. District
Magistrate, Kamrup & Ors  INSC 282 (14 October 1971)
Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971,
s. 3(2)(a)-At least one of the grounds of detention vague-Effect on detention order.
The petitioner was a dealer in salt in the
State of Assam.
On account of unprecedented floods there was
an acute scarcity of salt in the State. Although there was no law in the State
regulating its distribution and sale, the Deputy Commissioner, in consultation
with the representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce, fixed the ceiling
price of salt. The District Magistrate passed an order for detaining the
petitioner under s. 3(2)(a) of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971,
on the grounds : that he availed himself of the opportunity for profiteering in
the commodity, (1) by resorting to hoarding, and (2) by secretly selling this
essential commodity at exorbitant rates, and was therefore acting in a manner
prejudicial to the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the
In a petition under Art. 32 of the
Constitution challenging the validity of the detention order, the petitioner
contended that the grounds were vague and hence he had no opportunity to make a
Allowing the petition,
HELD : (1) The first ground was vague as no
effective representation could have been made on its basis in the absence of
particulars of the profiteering or hoarding activity. [1103 G-H] (2)Even
assuming that this ground was not vague the second ground was vague, because,
the idea of exorbitant rate is a relative one, and the ground did not convey
any definite idea as to the price at which he was selling salt, nor the time or
place of the sales or the persons to whom the sales were effected. Since at
least one of the grounds was vague the order of detention was vitiated. [1103
H; 1104 A-B, F-G] State of Bombay v. Atma Ram Sridhar Vaidya,  11 S C. R.
167, 184, Rameshwar Lal Patwari v. State of Bihar,  2 S.C.R. 505, Pushkar
Mukherjee v. State of W. Bengal,  3 S.C.R. 635 and Motilal fain v. State
of Bihar,  3 S.C.R. 587, followed.
Kashav Talpade v. King Emperor,  F.C.R.
ORIGINAL JURISDICTION : Writ Petition No. 375
Petition under Art. 32 of the Constitution of
India for a writ in the nature of habeas corpus.
A. K. Sen J. P. Bhattacharjee, D. N.
Mukherjee, D. K. Hazarika and thepetitioner in person, for the petitioner.
S. V. Gupte and Naunit Lal, for the
1102 The Judgment of the Court was delivered
by, Mathew, J. This application filed under Article 32 of the Constitution
challenges the validity of an order for detaining the petitioner,' passed by
the District Magistrate of Kamrup, under Section 3 (2) (a) of the Maintenance
of Internal Security Act, 1971 on August 30, 1971 and prays for the issue of a
writ in the nature of habeas corpus.
On the conclusion of the hearing of the case
on October 7, 1971, we passed the following order :"We are satisfied that
the order of the District Magistrate, Kamrup, dated August 30, 1971, detaining
the petitioner under s. 3(2)(a) of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act,
1971. cannot be sustained and as such the order of detention is set aside and
the detenu is directed to be set at liberty forthwith. The grounds for the
decision will be given in due course." Now we proceed to state the facts
and give the grounds of our decision.
The petitioner was a dealer in salt and other
commodities at Gauhati in the State of Assam. On account of unprecedented flood
the State was practically cut off from the rest of the country in the month of
July and August, 1971 and there was acute scarcity of salt in the State.
Although there was no law in the State regulating the distribution, sale or
price of. salt. the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup in consultation with the
representatives of the Kamrup Chamber of Commerce fixed the ceiling price of
salt at Rs. 19/per bag of 75 kg. by his order dated August 14, 1971. It was on
the allegation that the petitioner was acting in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance
of supplies and services essential to the community that the District
Magistrate passed the order for detaining the petitioner.
The grounds of detention communicated to the
petitioner read as follows :"1. That you are the proprietor of M/s. Mishrilal
Nirmal Kumar of Fancy Bazar, P.S.Gauhati, District-Kamrup which mainly deals in
salt-an essential commodity for human consumption. Prices of essential
commodities including salt have recorded unprecendented rise in the middle of
July, 1971 and salt became so scarce that this essential commodity was selling
in and around Gauhati at exceptionally high prices immediately after the
breaches of road and tram commun ications between Assam and the rest of the
1103 country. You, being one of the leading dealers of salt at Gauhati, availed
yourself of the opportunity of profiteering in this commodity by resorting to
The sudden disappearance of this most
essential commodity from Gauhati Market and resultant acute scarcity and high
prices resorted to by you and other unscrupulous dealers became a subject
matter of criticism both in the local press and the platform and the situation
ultimately posed a serious threat to the maintenance of law and order at
Gauhati in August, 1971.
In order to ease the supply position of this
commodity, the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup fixed on 14-8-71 a ceiling on the
prices of salt at Rs. 19.00 per bag and you wilfully organized profiteering by
secretly selling this essential commodity at exorbitant rates at Gauhati by creating
an artificial scarcity yourself even after fixation of its price by Deputy
Commissioner, Kamrup on 14-8-71 and thereby acted in a manner prejudicial to
the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community and your
being at large has, therefore, constituted a risk to the maintenance of
supplies and services essential to the Community.
Sd/Illegible District Magistrate, Kamrup,
Gauhati." The petitioner filed a representation against the grounds.
it he contended among other things that the
grounds were vague. The representation was rejected and the Governor of Assam
approved the order of detention under Section 3(3) of the Maintenance of
Internal Security Act, 1971.
The argument put forward by counsel on behalf
of the petitioner was that the grounds were vague and. therefore. the
petitioner had no effective opportunity of making a representation.
The first ground only stated that the
petitioner availed himself of the opportunity of the acute scarcity of salt in
Gauhati for profiteering in this commodity by resorting to hoarding. We think
that this ground was vague as no effective representation could have been made
on its basis in the absence of any Particulars of the profiteering or hoarding
activity. Even assuming that this ground was not vague, we are satisfied that
the other ground suffers from this vice. That ground was that the Deputy
Commissioner, Kamrup fixed on 14-8-71 a ceiling on the prices of salt at Rs. 19.00
per bag of 75 Kg. and the petitioner wilfully 1104 organised profiteering by
secretly selling this essential commodity at exorbitant rates at Gauhati by
creating an artificial scarcity even after the fixation of its price by the
Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup. The case that the petitioner has been selling salt
at "exorbitant rate does not convey any definite idea as to the price at
which he sold the article. The idea of exorbitant rate is relative one. It has
no absolute connotation. What may appear exorbitant rate to one may not be
exorbitant to another. In the counter affidavit on behalf of the Government of
Assam it is stated that the petitioner was selling salt at Rs. 35/per bag of 75
Kg. But that would not cure the defect of vagueness in the ground. Nor was
there any mention in the ground of the time or place of the sales or the
persons to whom the sales were effected. In the State of Bombay v. Atma Ram
Sridhar Vaidya(1), the court said "The contention that the grounds are
vague requires some clarification............ If the ground which is supplied
is incapable of being understood or defined with sufficient certainty it can be
called vague. It is not possible to state affirmatively more on the question of
what is vague. It must vary according to the circumstances of each
case........... If no reading the ground furnished it is capable of being
intelligently understood and is sufficiently definite to furnish materials to
enable the detained person to make a representation against the order of
detention it cannot be called vague." Tested by this standard we think the
second ground at any rate was definitely vague.
If the grounds are vague, it is settled by a
series of rulings of this Court that the order of detention would be bad (see
Ramesh war Lal Patwari v. State of Bihar (2 ) and Pushkar Mukherjee and others
v. The State of West Bengal(").
Even if the second ground alone was vague,
that would be sufficient to vitiate the order of detention.
In Kashav Talpade v. The King Emperor(4) it
"..The detaining authority gave here two
grounds for detaining the petitioner. We can neither decide whether these
grounds are good or bad, nor can we attempt to assess in what manner and to
what extent each of these grounds operated on the mind of the (1)  S.C.R.
167,184. (2)  (2) S.C.R. 505.
(3)  (2) S.C.R. 635. (4)  F.C.R.
1105 appropriate authority and contributed to
the creation of the satisfaction on the basis of which the detention order was
made. To say that the other ground, which still remains, is quite sufficient to
sustain the order, would be to substitute an objective judicial test for the
subjective decision of the executive authority which is against the legislative
policy underlying the statute. In such cases, we think, the position would be
the same as if one of these two grounds was irrelevant for the purpose of the
Act or was wholly illusory and this would vitiate the detention order as a
whole." The passage was quoted with approval by this Court in Rameshwar Lal
v.State of Bihar(1). In Pushkar Mukherjee and others v. The State' of West
Bengal(2), Ramaswami J.
speaking for the court said that if some of
the grounds supplied to the detenu are so vague that they would virtually
deprive the detenu of his statutory right of making the representation that
would make the order of detention invalid. The same view was expressed by Hegde
in Motilal Jain v. State of Bihar and
We think that the order of detention was
illegal and it is accordingly quashed.
V.P.S. Petition allowed.
(1) (2) S.C.R. 505.