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Supreme Court Upholds Liberty Against Stringent NDPS Bail Conditions

Introduction

The Hon’ble Supreme Court (‘SC’), in the case of Ankur Chaudhary v. State of Madhya Pradesh[i], dealt with a special leave petition arising out of the impugned order passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh (‘HC’) rejecting the Petitioner’s bail application. This decision deals with critical issues such as the treatment of witnesses and the implications of prolonged detention without trial in cases where stringent bail conditions are required to be met before an accused is enlarged on bail.

Facts of the case

  • The Petitioner had been in custody for over two years in connection with FIR No. 305 of 2022, registered at Police Station Chandan Nagar, District Indore, for offences punishable under s. 8 read with ss. 22 and 29 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985 (‘NDPS’).

  • The SC did not entertain the Petitioner's previous bail petition; however, he was granted liberty to approach the Trial Court for bail after the examination of panch witnesses.

  • The Petitioner approached the Trial Court to seek bail; however, the same was rejected on the ground that the investigation officer (‘IO’) might also be a panch witness who had to be examined. The HC affirmed the Trial Court’s decision and rejected the Petitioner's bail application.

  • Aggrieved by the orders passed by the HC and Trial Court, the Petitioner filed a special leave petition (‘SLP’) before the SC.

Held

  • The SC admitted the SLP filed by the Petitioner and granted him bail subject to suitable bail bonds and sureties, along with terms and conditions deemed fit by the Trial Court.

  • The SC considered the facts, the period of custody, and previous orders and noted that the panch witnesses did not support the prosecution’s case. Further it decided not to consider the IO as a panch witness.

  • The SC emphasized that failure to conclude the trial within a reasonable time, resulting in prolonged incarceration, violated the fundamental right under a. 21 of the Constitution of India (‘Constitution’). Thus, it held that in such circumstances, the liberty of the Petitioner shall override the statutory embargo created under s.37(1)(b) of the NDPS.

Our Analysis

This ruling emphasises the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights, particularly the right to a speedy trial under a. 21 of the Constitution. It underscores that the personal liberty of an accused shall override the stringent bail conditions imposed under the NDPS. The decision provides a breather for individuals who are accused under NDPS and other special acts, are in prolonged custody during the pendency of trial and are not able to secure bail due to the stringent bail conditions imposed under them. The ruling reaffirms the SC's longstanding emphasis on the fundamental right to a speedy and fair trial. The decision may set a precedent for similar cases, emphasizing the balance between statutory provisions and constitutional rights.







End Note

[i] Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No. 4648/2024






Authored by Kushagra Gahlot, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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