Four persons, arrested for their alleged links with a banned Maoist organisation, by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in January, were granted bail by a special court in Mumbai on Wednesday. This comes after the Bombay High Court quashed the special court’s earlier order of extending time granted to the ATS to file chargesheet in the case.
Satyanarayan Karrela, Krishna Lingaya Ghoshaka, Shankar Lingaya and Babu Shankar were granted bail on a surety of Rs 50,000 by the special court. The applications of the four other accused, against the trial court’s order are still pending before the High Court.
The accused had approached the High Court, stating that they were not heard on the ATS’s plea seeking extension beyond 90 days to file the chargesheet and were not given their ‘valuable right’ to get audience.
“In the case of extension of time for filing chargesheet beyond 90 days, it is the duty of the court to give hearing to the accused or his lawyers because (it is) his indefeasible right,” said Justice Mridula Bhatkar in her order on December 17.
“All the accused are in prison, hence it is the duty of the state to ensure their production on the date of the remand either by physical production or through video-conferencing. It was not done,” read the order. It further read that while all the accused and their advocates were present in court later that day, the judge should have given opportunity to the accused to argue the matter.
While the accused also sought bail by default, the High Court said the accused are at liberty to file bail applications before the special court.
In January, eight men working in private firms were arrested by the ATS from various parts of Mumbai and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. ATS claims that the workers were involved in raising funds for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
On April 9, ATS informed the special court that the accused, lodged in Arthur Road jail, were served notices about the plea seeking extension of time to file a chargesheet against them under UAPA.
The Act allows an extension up to 180 days after the 90-day limit to file the chargesheet, with the requisite court permission.
However, the defence lawyers argued that while ATS had submitted that the accused’s refusal to take service of the notices should be deemed acceptance, this contention was not acceptable as per previous Supreme court judgments. Hence, the trial(special) court’s order should be quashed and accused be granted bail, the defence argued.
The High Court referred to the ‘roznama’ (daily record) of the trial court and stated that on April 9, when the trial court granted time to the ATS, neither the accused were produced before the court, nor their advocates were present. They were brought before the court later in the day and their judicial custody was extended, but they were not heard on the ATS’s plea.
“The service of notice or opportunity to give audience to the applicants/accused when the issue of extension of time for filing chargesheet is involved, is not considered an empty formality but all the steps are required to be taken meaningfully and effective service of notice on the accused is necessary,” the High Court said.
The trial court on April 24 had also rejected a plea filed by the accused against the extended time for chargesheet filing. The chargesheet was filed on May 13 by the ATS.
Before the special court on Wednesday, special public prosecutor, Vaibhav Bagade told the court that the bail pleas of the accused should be heard on merit. Lawyer Arif Siddiqui, representing the accused, however, said that the High Court clearly states that they were at liberty to apply for bail since the trial court’s order granting the ATS more time to file chargesheet was quashed. The trial court accepted the bail pleas of the accused.