TN, Centre directed to pay Rs.2 lakh compensation for NRI's

Chennai: Over a year after Sarah Thomas, an NRI from Dubai, was detained by immigration officials here in a case of mistaken identity, the Madras High Court Tuesday awarded Rs two lakh compensation to her. 

However, as her counsel submitted that she was not interested in the compensation amount, a bench, comprising Justice S Tamilvanan and Justice C T Selvam, directed that the state and the central government must pay Rs one lakh each to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's Flood Relief Fund. 

Sarah Thomas was detained by immigration officials and later arrested on October 29, 2014 in a case of mistaken identity saying a lookout notice was pending against her when she came to attend the marriage of her colleague in Madurai. 

She was lodged in Puzhal prison and then handed over to Punalur Police of Kerala. 

The matter pertains to a case filed against one Sara Williams by police at Punalur in Kerala. They came to Chennai on information and arrested Sarah Thomas. 

The immigration officials, Chennai police and Kerala police had committed a 'series of blunders' in assuming she was Sara Williams who was absconding for 13 years in a cheating case. It was only after spot verification and statement from the original fugitive's parents themselves that Kerala police realized their mistake. 

A habeas corpus petition was filed by her son. 

Sarah later moved the court for action against the officials but said she didn't want any compensation. 

The division bench said "the reasons assigned by the respondents that the mistaken identity was on account of bonafide reasons could not be accepted." 

There is "a gross negligence" on the part of the authorities in sending Sarah Thomas, mother of the petitioner to Central Prison, Puzhal, Chennai and then taking her to Kerala. "We are of the view that there is a violation of human rights." 

It was her son who moved the court stating that his mother landed from Dubai on October 29, 2014. She was taken for inquiry in connection with a pending look-out circular for a woman with same name in a CBI case. 

Kerala police realized that the lookout circular was issued for one Saramma Thomas Sara Williams wanted by CBI. Sara Thomas was later let off and the matter closed. 

She, however, moved the court for action against the officials but said she didn't want any compensation. "Having considered the facts and circumstances, we find it just and reasonable to impose a sum of Rs.2,00,000 as damages to be paid by the authorities of Central and State, out of which, 50 per cent shall be paid by the Union of India, Ministry of External Affairs and another 50 per cent shall be paid by the government of Tamil Nadu." 

"Considering the submission made by the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner that the petitioner is not inclined to get the compensation amount and also the recent natural calamity of flood, we direct to pay the said amount towards the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's Flood Relief Fund, within four weeks from the date of receipt of copy of this order," the bench said. 

The Bench framed a set of guidelines to be followed before effecting arrest of a person under the look-out notice. 

It said airport authorities should carefully verify the genuineness of documents such as passport and visa and photo of the pasenger should be carefully and properly compared with the photo of the suspected person. 

In case of serious doubt about the identity of the passenger/person, authorities concerned must file a detailed report and should not send them to jail straightaway. "If the person is a woman passenger, proper woman official should be posted for her safety." 

The Home Ministry had issued as per the instructions of the Interpol, three LOCs as early as in December, 2004 against Sara Williams Saramma Thomas alias Saramma Thomas born in 1975 hailing from Punalur. 

As per the LOC, the action to be taken was to detain the woman and inform about it to "the originator." 

Accordingly, the officer intercepted the petitioner's mother, detained her on October 29 last and handed her over to the police attached to the airport. The Kerala police took her to Punalur and after proper inquiry found that the woman had been wrongly arrested due to mistaken identity and she was released on November 2.

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