March 28, 2021 1:33:22 am
FOUR YEARS after 17 persons died in a building collapse in Ghatkopar, the two main accused in the case have both been granted bail on grounds that include the delay in commencement of the criminal trial.
While the Bombay High Court granted bail to Sunil Shitap, the building’s secretary, who is alleged to have made structural changes to the building leading to its collapse, Ranjit Agale, an interior decorator, was granted bail by the sessions court this week.
Siddhi Sai Apartments, a residential building in Ghatkopar west, had collapsed in July 2017. The incident had claimed 17 lives, including that of 11 women, while 14 others were injured.
The bail applications of both Shitap and Agale had earlier been rejected multiple times by the sessions court and High Court since 2017.
But while granting bail to Shitap earlier this month, Bombay High Court Justice A S Gadkari said, “It is brought to the notice of the court that the prosecution till date has not taken any steps to frame charges against the applicant and co-accused. It inter-alia means that the trial of the present case has not yet begun.
The maximum sentence prescribed under section 304 (ii) is up to 10 years or fine, or with both. The applicant (Shitap) was in incarceration for about three years and… he has undergone approximately one third of his sentence as an under-trial prisoner.”
Additional Sessions Judge M M Umar took into consideration the High Court’s order and allowed Agale bail on grounds of “consistency and equity”.
Both the courts also considered that while Shitap and Agale were released on interim bail in May last year, as recommended by a committee to decongest jails during the Covid-19 pandemic, no breach of any bail condition was reported.
The prosecution and family members of the victims, through an intervention application, had opposed Shitap’s bail plea, saying he had
made changes to the structure of the building and had the knowledge of its probable collapse.
The intervener had argued that residents of the building lost their lives for no fault of theirs and many suffered grievous injuries.
It was also submitted that the occupants of the building were rendered homeless.
The High Court said that while the incident took place in July 2017, the prosecution has not taken steps to frame charges till date.
It directed the sessions court to expedite the trial and attempt to conclude it within a year. The accused in the case have been booked under sections including 304 (ii) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336 (act done rashly or negligently to endanger human lives) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.
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