Read Order: Gursewak Singh v. State of Punjab

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, May 24, 2022: While dealing with a bail plea where there was a two-year-long delay in the framing of charges due to the non-production of the accused by the jail authorities before the Trial Court in spite of such Court issuing several production warrants, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that under trial prisoners cannot be left languishing for an indefinite period during the pendency of a trial for reasons not attributable to them, except if, there are some convincing and satisfactory reasons for their incarceration. 

The right to life and personal liberty granted by the Constitution of India also covers the right to a speedy trial, opined the Bench of Justice Manjari Nehru Kaul while also expounding, “… like in the case in hand, the trial is not expected to conclude within a reasonable time, the Courts cannot be expected to be a mute spectator and should rather unhesitatingly interfere for securing the personal liberty of an under trial.”

Thus, the Director-General of Police (Prisons), Punjab, was “well-advised” by the Court to look into the “poor state of affairs”, which is prevailing in the jails across the State of Punjab, 

“In fact, the scant respect which the authorities concerned have for the orders of the Court is clearly discernible in the case, in hand”, Justice Kaul remarked. 

The Court was dealing with the fourth petition filed under Section 439 Cr.P.C. for grant of bail to the petitioner in relation to an FIR registered at him under Sections 21/29 of the NDPS Act, 1985, at Police Station Sarai Amanat Khan, District Tarn Taran. 

Justifying the filing of this petition (which is the fourth petition in a row), the petitioner’s counsel submitted that this petition was filed owing to a change in circumstances, which is the non-framing of the charges in spite of the filing of the charge sheet way back on June 13, 2020. 

It was the case of the Counsel that after the filing of such a charge sheet, the case was repeatedly adjourned and even after the Courts resumed normal functioning subsequent to the pandemic Covid-19, no progress has been made in the trial which has come to a virtual standstill. 

Furthermore, he submitted that the petitioner was last produced before the trial Court by the jail authorities on August 17, 2021, and thereafter, the case was adjourned to various dates for the purpose of production of the accused including the petitioner. The Counsel further added that such non-production (of the accused before the Trial Court) was done by the jail authorities in spite of having production warrants issued by the lower Court for each of the adjourned dates. 

Thus, in this light, the Counsel argued that the petitioner had been suffering long incarceration for almost 2½ years and there was no likelihood of the trial concluding in the near future. Lastly, it was contended that the petitioner was falsely implicated in the case, at hand and that he had antecedents as he was not involved in any other criminal case, much less, in a case under the NDPS Act, 1985. 

The Court, in one of its previous hearings, directed the Trial Court to explain the delay in the framing of charges. The report of the lower court filed in pursuance of this order stated that the charges could not be framed against the accused, as the petitioner and the co-accused were not produced by the jail authorities despite the issuance of the production warrants for securing their presence. 

Per contra, the State counsel could not contradict the submission of non-production of the accused in spite of the issuance of production warrants. The counsel submitted that recovery of 350 grams of heroin was effected from the petitioner and hence, he did not deserve the concession of bail. 

In response to a pointed query was put to the State counsel as to whether the petitioner was involved in any other criminal case, he replied in the negative though he submitted that one case under the Prison Act stood registered against the petitioner, which was also mentioned in his custody certificate. 

Thus, against this backdrop, the High Court was constrained to observe that on account of the lackadaisical approach of the jail authorities concerned, the petitioner was not produced before the trial court despite the issuance of production warrants by the trial court concerned. The trial has, therefore, been delayed and come to a virtual standstill, the Court held. 

Significantly, the Court observed that under trial prisoners cannot be left languishing for an indefinite period during the pendency of a trial for reasons not attributable to them, except if, there are some convincing and satisfactory reasons for their incarceration. 

Further, Justice Kaul added that although (as per the submission of the State Counsel) the recovery of 350 grams of heroin was allegedly effected from the petitioner, however, at the same time, it needs to be reiterated that the right to life and personal liberty granted by the Constitution of India also covers the right to a speedy trial. 

Thus, the concession of bail to the petitioner was extended during the pendency of the trial as he had been in custody for more than two years and five months coupled with the fact that he was not involved in any other criminal case. 

Also, before parting, the Director-General of Police (Prisons), Punjab, was “well-advised” to look into the poor state of affairs, which is prevailing in the jails across the State of Punjab, as this was not the first instance which came to the notice of the Court, wherein the accused were not produced before the trial Court, despite production warrants having been issued for securing their presence, as a result of which, the trials were getting unnecessarily delayed. 

“In fact, the scant respect that the authorities concerned have for the orders of the Court is clearly discernible in the case, in hand”, remarked Justice Kaul while allowing the petition. 

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