[Delhi Riots 2020] Availing legal remedies cannot be grounds for delay; Delhi High Court rules in favor of Sharjeel Imam’s Bail

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: An appeal was filed by Sharjeel Imam (appellant), an accused in Delhi Riots case in 2020, challenging the order dated 17-02-2024, passed by the Trial Court, which denied his plea for release on bail under Section 436-A CrPC. A division bench of Suresh Kumar Kait and Manoj Jain, JJ., held that there was nothing on record which could have disentitled the accused from seeking relief under Section 436-A CrPC and directed that appellant be released on bail on terms and conditions to be imposed by the learned Trial Court.

The Court stated that “We must be mindful of the objective behind incorporating Section 436-A CrPC. This benevolent provision has been introduced by Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act 2005 with the idea that no undertrial prisoner is detained in jail beyond half of the maximum sentence provided for such offences. Undoubtedly, as per proviso, Court can order further detention, but the reasons must be rational and logical, else the very purpose of introducing the provision would stand defeated.”

The appellant was arrested on 28-01-2020 for offences under Sections 124A, 153A, 153B, 505(2) IPC, and Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and has been in custody since then. The charges were framed on 15-03-2022, and the trial proceeded with the prosecution examining 22 out of 48 cited witnesses.

The Trial court recognized that the constitutionality of Section 124-A IPC was under review by the Supreme Court, referencing the case of S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India, (2022) 7 SCC 433, where the Supreme Court suggested the provision was outdated and stayed all trials under this section. Consequently, the appellant requested a stay of trial and bail, but the Special Court denied this request on 23-07-2022. This denial was appealed, and the trial was stayed, particularly the recording of evidence from key witnesses, pending the Supreme Court’s decision.

Despite being in custody for over four years, the appellant sought bail under Section 436-A CrPC, which allows bail for undertrial prisoners who have served half the maximum sentence. The trial court acknowledged that Section 124-A IPC should not be considered due to the Supreme Court’s directions and focused on Section 13 of the UAPA, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. Although the appellant had served more than half of this sentence, the trial court declined bail, citing the exceptional nature of the case and the severity of the allegations, including speeches inciting riots and significant damage to public property.

The appellant filed the present appeal under Section 21(4) of the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008. Section 436-A CrPC stipulates that an undertrial prisoner should be released on bail if they have served half the maximum sentence unless the court, for recorded reasons, orders continued detention. The appellant had undeniably served more than half of the maximum sentence. The Trial court excluded Section 124-A IPC from consideration, aligning with Supreme Court directions.

The trial court’s decision was primarily based on the seriousness of the allegations and perceived exceptional circumstances. However, there was no indication that the appellant had caused any delay in the proceedings. The prosecution argued that the appellant’s legal challenges contributed to delays and that he sought to benefit from these delays, but the appellate court found no merit in this contention. The court noted that availing legal remedies should not be seen as causing undue delay, especially when the stay was based on mutual consent and not challenged by the state.

The Appellate court emphasized the purpose of Section 436-A CrPC to prevent prolonged detention of undertrial prisoners and found the trial court’s reasoning insufficient to deny bail. The court held that serious allegations alone do not justify denying bail under Section 436-A. The court also noted that where bail was granted despite claims of trial delay attributed to the accused.

Conclusively, the Appellate court saw no justifiable reason to deny the appellant bail and directed his release on terms to be set by the trial court. The appeal was allowed, and the order was to be immediately communicated to the trial court for compliance, thereby disposing of the appeal.

[Sharjeel Imam v. State NCT of Delhi, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 4378, decided on 29-05-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Talib Mustafa, Mr. Ahmad Ibrahim, Ms. Raksha Agarwal, Mr. Kartik Venu, Mr. Shaurca Tyagi and Ms. Ayesha Zaidi, Advocates for appellant

Mr. Talib Mustafa, Mr. Ahmad Ibrahim, Ms. Raksha Agarwal, Mr. Kartik Venu, Mr. Shaurca Tyagi and Ms. Ayesha Zaidi, Advocates

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