The Delhi High Court on Wednesday upheld the order of the trial court granting bail to the Cricket match-fixing accused Sanjeev Chawla.
Justice Asha Menon was pronouncing the order through video conferencing reserved earlier ina petition filed by Delhi police through Public Prosecutor, Advocate Kewal Singh Ahuja. The petition stated that “Accused Sanjeev Kumar Chawla is a British National. It took 20 years to bring him to justice in India. Investigation agency worked hard on this case to get the accused extradited from the UK and succeed in the matter as the case is very strong on law and fact. There is a likelihood of the accused fleeing away from justice.”
ASG Mr. Sanjay Jain submitted before the Court that Additional Sessions Judge has considered irrelevant factors to grant bail by overlooking all relevant factors and he was a “high flight risk” accused, which fact had been completely ignored.
Mr. Vikas Pahwa, Senior Advocate appearing for the Sanjeev Chawla said that there is no evidence to suggest that Chawla was likely to abscond during the complete lockdown with no mode of transport including flights, which have remained suspended. Mr. Pahwa also submitted that during the extradition proceeding from the year 2016 to 2020 till its conclusion, Chawla had remained on bail and there had been no occasion of him to flee from justice.
“As per the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the High Court for release of under-trials in jail to de-congest the prisons, further relaxation covered the cases with imprisonment upto 10 years. Further, merely because the respondent/ accused was a foreign national, he could not be barred from praying for grant of the benefit of these guidelines for release,” Mr. Pahwa stated.
Referring to the case of Dolat Ram vs. State of Haryana, (1995) 1 SCC 349, Mr. Pahwa submitted that “…without a change in circumstance or a supervening factor disclosing interference with the trial, bail could not be canceled and that considerations for grant of bail were different from the considerations for cancellation of bail and it was impermissible for the court to re-evaluate the material or evidence on the basis of which bail had been granted while disposing of an application for its cancellation.”
Whereas, while reproducing the words of the Supreme Court, the Delhi HC also observed that decision of the Supreme Court in Dolat Ram is the most significant judgment laying down guidelines to courts while deciding the question of cancellation of bail already granted.
However, Mr. Jain said that “…bail could be canceled even in the absence of the supervening factors as listed by the Supreme Court in Dolat Ram’s case (supra) and where the gravity and nature of the offenses and seriousness of the accusations against the respondent/accused were ignored by the court granting bail or irrelevant factors were taken into consideration for the grant of bail or when the course of justice may be thwarted due to grant of bail or when bail ought not to have been granted to the accused in the first place, the courts could cancel bail already granted.”
Mr. Jain also submitted, “…as he has been given a separate room with all facilities, such as T.V. in the Tihar Jail, and therefore, there was no threat of infection of Covid-19 and the learned ASJ ought not to have considered Covid-19 guidelines for grant of bail to the respondent/ accused.”
The court stated that the principles governing grant of bail which the courts have to consider can be enumerated, though not exhaustively, as under:-
- The gravity and severity of the offense and the nature of accusation;
- The severity of punishment;
- The position and status of the accused vis-à-vis the victim and the opportunity to approach the victims/witnesses;
- The likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice;
- The possibility of tampering with the evidence and/or the witnesses;
- Obstructing the course of justice or attempting to do so;
- The possibility of repetition of the offense;
- The prima facie satisfaction of the court in support of the charge including frivolity of the charge;
- The peculiar facts of each case and the nature of supporting evidence.
Whereas, the court also observed that the factors that need to be considered while dealing with the question of cancellation of bail are different from these considerations. The Supreme Court has adumbrated in Dolat Ram’s case, the following situations as supervening factors that may justify the cancellation of the bail:
- Interference or attempt to interfere with the due course of administration of justice;
- Evasion or attempt to evade the due course of justice;
- Abuse of the concession granted to the accused;
- Possibility of the accused absconding;
- Likelihood of/actual misuse of bail;
- Likelihood of the accused tampering with the evidence or threatening witnesses;
- Other supervening circumstances, which have rendered it no longer conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom by being on bail.
The Court observed that Mr. Jain has sought cancellation of the bail primarily on the ground of gravity of the offense, which has international ramifications and the application of the guidelines for release in view of the Covid-19 to Chawla.
However, on the other side the court stated that “…it cannot also be overlooked that out of the remaining four accused persons, three were arrested in the year 2000 when the FIR was registered. Till date, admittedly, not even the charge has been framed against any one of them.”
“Even today, the petitioner/State submits that the investigations are still going on and the voice sample and specimen of handwriting of respondent/accused is also to be gathered. The trial scenario being so stark, liberty of a person cannot be left in limbo only on account of the belief of the State that the respondent/accused is a flight risk”, the court stated.
The Court unprecedentedly also stated that “this case brings to the fore the need for investigative agencies and the Government to consider the use of advances in technology to track under-trials in cases of this nature where the State may fear that an accused may flee from the trial. Digital and electronic equipment, as presently used in America, ought to be introduced in India, so that a tracking system similar to the GPS Tracking System, can be used to monitor the movement of the accused released on bail, allowing the authorities to gather information all the time while permitting the accused to undertake the usual and ordinary activities of normal life.”
The court while dismissing the petition for cancellation of bail directed that both the sureties, who have furnished the surety bonds, shall also furnish the details of their mobile phones to the SHO/IO and keep their mobile phones operational at all times. Further, the respondent/accused shall make a call to the IO/SHO once a day and shall not leave Delhi except with the permission of the Trial Court.
-India Legal Bureau