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Right to Sleep - A Legal lullaby


APRIL24, 2024

By Vijay Kumar

IN People's Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India - AIR 1997 SC 568, the supreme Court held:

We do not entertain any doubt that the word 'life' in Article 21 bears the same signification. Is then the word 'personal liberty' to be construed as excluding from its purview an invasion on the part of the police of the sanctity of a man's home and an intrusion into his personal security and his right to sleep which is the normal comfort and a dire necessity for human existence even as an animal. It might not be inappropriate to refer here to the words of the preamble to the Constitution that it is designed to 'assure the dignity of the individual' and therefore of those cherished human values as the means of ensuring his full development and evolution.

However, there's a crucial stipulation: this right (like most things) comes with conditions. Apparently, catching some shuteye in the hallowed halls of justice is still a big no-no. The Supreme Court noted that that a person may not claim that sleeping is his fundamental right, and therefore, he has a right to sleep in the premises of the Supreme Court itself or within the precincts of the Parliament.

And observed,

it is evident that right of privacy and the right to sleep have always been treated to be a fundamental right like a right to breathe, to eat, to drink, to blink, etc.

Apex Court in the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India, observed:

An individual is entitled to sleep as comfortably and as freely as he breathes. Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival. Sleep is, therefore, a fundamental and basic requirement without which the existence of life itself would be in peril. To disturb sleep, therefore, would amount to torture which is now accepted as a violation of human right. It would be similar to a third-degree method which at times is sought to be justified as a necessary police action to extract the truth out of an accused involved in heinous and cold-blooded crimes. It is also a device adopted during warfare where prisoners of war and those involved in espionage are subjected to treatments depriving them of normal sleep.

In Sayeed Maqsood Ali vs State of M.P on 19 March 2001, Justice Dipak Misra observed:

Life is a glorious gift from God. It is the perfection of nature, a masterpiece of creation. It is majestic and sublime. Human being is the epitome of the infinite prowess of the divine designer. Great achievements and accomplishments in life are possible if one is permitted to lead an acceptably healthy life. It has been said "life is action, the use of one's powers" and powers one can use if he has real faith in life. The term 'life' as employed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India does never mean a basic animal existence but conveys living of life with utmost nobleness and human dignity - dignity which is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for. Life takes within its fold some of the finer graces of human civilization which makes life worth living.

Every citizen is entitled under Article 21 of the Constitution to live in a decent environment and has the right to sleep peacefully at night. Not for nothing it has been said sleep is the best cure for waking troubles and the sleep of a labouring man is sweet. Sleep brings serenity. Lack of sleep creates lack of concentration, irritability and reduced efficiency. It cannot be lost sight of that silence invigorates the mind, energises the body and quietens the soul. That apart, the solitude can be chosen as a companion by a citizen. No one has a right to affect the rights of others to have proper sleep, peaceful living atmosphere and undisturbed thought.

Can a person summoned by all powerful agencies like ED, be allowed to sleep? Whether such a person can really sleep is another question. Let's see a recent story.

Ram Kotumal Issrani, aged about 64 years was summoned to attend before the Enforcement Directorate on 07.08.2023 at 10:30 a.m. On 07.08.2023, Ram Kotumal Issrani respectfully reached the ED office at 10.30 am. According to Ram Kotumal Issrani, he was interrogated by the ED officials whole night despite he being medically unfit and was kept awake for 20 hours and was not allowed to sleep, despite having joined investigation on three previous occasions where his statement under Section 50 of the PMLA was recorded on every occasion. He pleaded that it was in clear violation of his fundamental right 'Right to Sleep', which forms part of his right to life, enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

On 08.08.2023, just a week before Independence Day, Ram Kotumal Issrani, was arrested by ED. Ram Kotumal Issrani, approached the Bombay High Court aggrieved by the actions of ED. (CRIMINAL WRIT PETITION (STAMP) NO. 15417 OF 2023)

The High Court noted the submissions of the petitioner that:

He was made to wait in the office of the ED and that his statement was recorded from 10:30 p.m till 3:00 a.m, thereby depriving him of his right to sleep, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. He is aged about 64 years, having medical issues and as such, there was no tearing hurry for the ED to record the statement post mid-night and the petitioner could have well been summoned on the next date or even a few days thereafter.

The Court questioned the Public Prosecutor with respect to why the statement was recorded so belatedly, post-midnight, and he submitted that the petitioner had no objection to the recording of his statement belatedly and hence, the same was recorded.

The Court was not impressed and observed,

Voluntary or otherwise, we deprecate the manner in which the petitioner's statement was recorded so late in the night which went on post-midnight, till 3:30 a.m. It is pertinent to note and as contended by the learned Spl. P.P, when a person is summoned under Section 50 of the PMLA, the person is 'not an accused', and that the said person could well be a witness or a person who is associated or has knowledge about the offence being investigated.

The Court further observed,

Thus, a person summoned under Section 50 of the PMLA, should have his statement necessarily recorded during earthly hours, as the investigating agency is yet to arrive at a 'reason to believe' that the said person is guilty of an offence punishable under this Act. The 'right to sleep'/'right to blink' is a basic human requirement, inasmuch as, non-providing of the same, violates a person's human rights. It affects a person's health, may impair his mental faculties, cognitive skills and so on. The said person, so summoned, cannot be deprived of his basic human right i.e. right to sleep, by the agency, beyond a reasonable time. Statements must necessarily be recorded during earthly hours and not in the night when the person's cognitive skills may be impaired.

In the facts, it is not as if the petitioner, aged 64 years had not reported to the Office of the ED on 3 earlier occasions, post the summons issued under Section 50 of the PMLA. This was the 4th summons which was issued to the petitioner. On all the earlier occasions, his statements were recorded and as such, the petitioner could have well been summoned on some other day or even on the next day, instead of keeping him waiting post mid- night, despite his alleged consent. Consent is immaterial. Recording of statement, at unearthly hours, definitely results in deprivation of a person's sleep, a basic human right of an individual. We disapprove this practice. Thus, we deem it appropriate to direct the ED to issue a circular/directions, as to the timings, for recording of statements, when summons under Section 50 of the PMLA are issued, having regard to what is observed by us hereinabove.

The strange fact is that while the ED officers did not allow Ram Kotumal Issrani to sleep, they were also obviously not sleeping. Sleep is a fundamental right for the officers too. What do they gain by not sleeping and not letting the summoned person to sleep? Sleep deprivation is very dangerous - even for enforcement officers!

Sleep deprivation has been used as a method of interrogation in many contexts and for many centuries. The Romans used it to extract information from their enemies, calling it tormentum vigilae (waking torture) or tormentum insomniae, and it is still very much in use today.

Prolonged sleep deprivation has been described as being horrendous. Menachem Begin, a former Israeli Prime Minister (1977-83), described his experience of it as a prisoner of the KGB in the Soviet Union:

In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire, to sleep, to sleep just a little, not to get up, to lie, to rest, to forget … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable with it … I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator had promised them. He did not promise them liberty … [only] uninterrupted sleep! …

From courtrooms to ED offices, the right to sleep is a constitutional melody with its own twists and turns. As the law juggles justice and the need for a good snooze, the tale of Ram Kotumal Issrani reminds us that even in legal battles, bedtime stories unfold. So, when the gavel falls and the lights dim, remember, in the realm of rights, the quest for peaceful slumber is a timeless epic. May your dreams be just, your sheets be soft, and your sleep be legally sound - for in the realm of rest, even the law nods off. Sweet dreams, even in the midst of legal schemes!

Until next week


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