For six decades, neither a sessions judge nor the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) has decided criminal cases or granted anticipatory bail in Meghalaya’s tribal areas. An autonomous district council has applied its own rules to adjudicate such cases.
This practice, though challenged, is set to continue with Supreme Court on Monday allowing Khasi hills autonomous district council to continue hearing such cases.
“District council has been exercising the power of granting anticipatory bail to the accused in tribal areas and jurisdiction of a sessions judge does not extend to these areas,” noted a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant.
The bench stayed a Meghalaya High Court judgment that restrained the district council from exercising its power. The High Court had taken a suo motu note of the council’s practice of granting anticipatory bail and issued a prohibitory order.
The council then complained to the apex court that the order ran contrary to the Sixth Schedule of Constitution and rules meant for administering justice in Meghalaya’s tribal areas.
Appearing for the council, senior advocate Vijay Hansaria argued that the impugned order will deprive tribals of the benefit of anticipatory bail since a sessions court is not authorised to hear their cases.
“Power of a sessions judge is confined to Shillong municipality and administered areas,” he said. Hansaria also referred to a 1993 judgment by Gauhati High Court in which the council’s power to grant protection from arrest was upheld.