Home » Detention Of Under-Trial Prisoners In Custody For An Indefinite Period Violates Article 21 Of The Constitution

Detention Of Under-Trial Prisoners In Custody For An Indefinite Period Violates Article 21 Of The Constitution

by Rinku Khumukcham
0 comment 12 minutes read

By: Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate
While taking the most pragmatic, progressive and pertinent stand, the Manipur High Court has in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Rekibuddin Ahamed v. State of Manipur and another in 2022 CRI.L.J. 4301 : AIR Online 2022 MPR 59 that was delivered finally on May 18, 2022 has made it indubitably clear that detention of under-trial prisoners in custody for indefinite period violates Article 21 of Constitution. The Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice MV Muralidharan has also held that every person detained or arrested is entitled to speedy investigation and trial. The Bench also made it clear that mere fact that serious allegations are levelled against accused, cannot be ground to deny bail. It was also held that refusal to grant bail is restriction on personal liberty and such denial should not be on perceived apprehension that accused, if released will tamper with evidence.
At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice MV Muralidharan sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “This is an application under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for releasing the petitioner, who is the third accused on bail in connection with FIR No.06(02)2022 NAB-PS under Sections 22(C)/29/60(3) ND and PS Act.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 3 that, “The facts in a nutshell are as under:
On 20.02.2022, the complainant, ASI of NAB PS, Manipur, along with his posse, conducted random frisking and checking at Tangjeng, Thoubal District, Manipur area. On noticing two vehicles, viz., Toyota Fortuner bearing registration No. MN 06 LB 5094 and Maruti LA 7947, being driven with high speed towards Imphal, in a suspicious manner, the frisking team signaled to stop the cars. The car did not stop. However, the police team overpowered the cars and detained them at the spot for verification.”
As it turned out, the Bench then discloses in para 4 that, “On verification, the petitioner identified himself as Rekibuddin Ahamed and on searching his body, the police team seized his mobile phone, ATM cards, Voter ID, Driving Licence and cash of Rs. 50,000/-. The accused was arrested at 4.50 PM on the same day.”
As we see, the Bench then points out in para 5 that, “It is the case of the petitioner that he owns small car auction business at Guwahati and visits Manipur on regular basis for his business purpose and as a tourist, and that he went to Moreh for shopping. Moreover, no drugs or incriminating articles were found to be in the possession of the petitioner. The petitioner boarded in Toyota Fortuner and he had no knowledge of any illegal drugs being carried in Maruti Suzuki car. It is added that there is no witness during the search of the said car.”
Adding more, the Bench then states in para 6 that, “It is the further case of the petitioner that he has been languishing in jail for about two months since arrest and he has no criminal antecedents.”
Be it noted, the Bench then reveals in para 7 that, “The petitioner moved a bail application bearing Cril Misc. (B) Case No. 47 of 2022 before the learned Special Judge (ND and PS), Thoubal. However, the learned Special Judge rejected the bail application solely on the ground that unless the names of persons with whom the petitioner had bank transactions are identified, there can be no conclusion.”
What also merits noticing is that the Bench then specifies in para 8 that, “It is the further case of the petitioner that all the accused who boarded Toyota Fortuner were released on bail except the petitioner, who is the third accused in the FIR.”
Needless to say, the Bench mentions in para 13 that, “Heard the learned counsels on either side, who reiterated the averments made in the affidavits filed in this case.”
To be sure, the Bench then pointed out in para 14 that, “It is not in dispute that all the accused persons who boarded in the Toyota Fortuner were released on bail, except the petitioner, who is the third accused in the FIR.”
It must be borne in mind that the Bench then reveals in para 16 that, “The petitioner has been remanded in police custody since 21.2.2022 till 5.3.2022 and thereafter he has been remanded in judicial custody at Sajiwa Central Jail till date.”
Broadly speaking, the Bench then mandates in para 17 that, “It is well settled that while considering an application for bail, detailed discussion of the evidence and elaborate documentation of the merits is to be avoided. This requirement stems from the desirability that no party should have the impression that his case has been prejudged. Existence of a prima facie case is only to be considered. Elaborate analysis or exhaustive exploration of the merits is not required. Where the offence is of serious nature, the question of grant of bail has to be decided keeping in view the nature and seriousness of the offence, character of the evidence and amongst others the larger interest of the public.”
Quite ostensibly, the Bench then observes in para 18 that, “As stated supra, the allegation levelled against the present petitioner is to be proved by way of oral and documentary evidence and thus, at this stage, an elaborate analysis on the merits of the allegation cannot be gone into.”  
Most significantly, the Bench then minces no words absolutely to hold in para 19 that, “Time and again, the Apex Court held that a procedure which keeps large number of people behind bars without trial, for long, cannot be regarded as “reasonable, just, fair” so as to be in conformity with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Detaining the under-trial prisoners in custody for an indefinite period is a gross violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”     
While setting the record straight, the Bench also minced no words in holding in para 20 that, “It is settled law that the grant of bail ought not to be denied only on the perceived apprehension by the Court that the accused, if restored to liberty, will tamper with the evidence. There must be some prima facie evidence on record or reasonable and justifiable grounds to believe that in case the benefit of bail is extended to an accused, he is going to misuse his liberty or he would create conditions which are not conducive to hold a fair trial. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in various judgments has confirmed that “bail is the rule and jail is an exception.” The object of bail is neither punitive nor preventive but is meant to secure presence of the accused during the trial.”
Most forthrightly, the Bench then hold in para 21 that, “When the under-trial prisoners are detained in jail custody to an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution of India is violated. Every person, detained or arrested, is entitled to speedy investigation and trial. Merely the fact that serious allegations are levelled against the petitioner, the petitioner cannot be denied bail.”
Do note, the Bench then enunciates in para 22 that, “In the instant case, as admitted by the prosecution, the investigation is in good progress. It is also the admitted fact that the petitioner is in custody from 21.2.2022 and the other co-accused in the same vehicle were released on bail. The primary purpose of bail in a criminal case is to relieve the accused of imprisonment, to relieve the State of the burden of keeping him pending the trial, and at the same time, to keep the accused constructively in the custody of the Court, whether before or after conviction, to assure that he will submit to the jurisdiction of the Court and be in attendance thereon whenever his presence is required.”
While citing the relevant case law, the Bench then states in para 23 that, “In Sanjay Chandra v. CBI, reported in (2012) 1 SCC 40 : (AIR 2012 SC 830), the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed as follows:
“21. In bail applications, generally, it has been laid down from the earliest times that the object of bail is to secure the appearance of the accused person at his trial by reasonable amount of bail. The object of bail is neither punitive nor preventative. Deprivation of liberty must be considered a punishment, unless it is required to ensure that an accused person will stand his trial when called upon. The Courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty.”
It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then underscores in para 24 stating that, “The Apex Court as well as this Court in number of cases held that bail is the rule and committal to jail is an exception. The Courts have also observed that refusal of bail is a restriction on the personal liberty of the individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
Briefly stated, the Bench then notes in para 25 that, “In State of Rajasthan v. Balchand alias Baliay (1977) 4 SCC 308 : (AIR 1977 SC 2447), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held:
“2. The basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail, except where there are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like, by the petitioner who seeks enlargement on bail from the court. We do not intend to be exhaustive but only illustrative.””
Furthermore, the Bench then illustrates in para 27 stating that, “In Dataram Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh and another, reported in (2018) 3 SCC 22 : (AIR 2018 SC 980), the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that a fundamental postulate of criminal jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence, meaning thereby that a person is believed to be innocent until found guilty. However, there are instances in our criminal law where a reverse onus has been placed on an accused with regard to some specific offences, but that is another matter and does not detract from the fundamental postulate in respect of other offences. Yet another important facet of our criminal jurisprudence is that the grant of bail is the general rule and putting a person in jail or in a prison or in a correctional home is an exception. Unfortunately, some of these basic principles appear to have been lost sight of with the result that more and more persons are being incarcerated and for longer periods. This does not do any good to our criminal jurisprudence or to our society.”
Quite palpably, the Bench then commendably maintains in para  28 observing that, “Thus, it is clear that grant or denial of bail is entirely the discretion of the Judge considering the bail application, but even so, the exercise of judicial discretion has been circumscribed by a large number of decisions rendered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court as well as by the High Courts in the country. To put it shortly, a humane attitude is required to be adopted by a Judge while dealing with the bail application. Even if the offence is a serious offence, requires a humane treatment by the Court, humane treatment to all including an accused is requirement of law.”
Quite naturally, the Bench then hastens to add in para 29 stating that, “Since the allegations levelled against the petitioner would involve oral and documentary evidence, no contraband was seized from the possession of the present petitioner, co-accused using the same vehicle were also released on bail and also in view of the undertaking by the petitioner that he will not attempt to tamper any evidence that may be relevant in the present case and to face the complete trial and not flee from justice, this Court is of the view that the petitioner is entitled to be enlarged on bail.”
Finally, to put it shortly the Bench then concludes by allowing the bail application as pointed out in para 30 and directing the petitioner to produce sureties for Rs 1 lakh with 2 sureties of like sum to the satisfaction of learned Special Judge (ND and PS), Thoubal, Manipur and so also directing to report before the respondent police daily at 10:30 a.m. for 1 (one) week and thereafter as and when required by the police. The Bench also directed the petitioner to not leave the State without prior permission of the Learned Special Judge (ND and PS), Manipur. The Bench also made it clear in this concluding para 30 that if any violation of the order, the Prosecution is at liberty to seek cancellation of the bail.”
In a nutshell, we thus see that the Manipur High Court has in the fitness of things made it indubitably clear that the detention of under-trial prisoners in custody for an indefinite period violates Article 21 of the Constitution. So it goes without saying that there has to be zero tolerance for detention of under-trial prisoners. It is also the bounden duty of the concerned Court to come to their rescue who land up being in jail for an indefinite period without even trial being commenced against them. No denying it!

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