The Centre has shot down an idea of releasing petty undertrials on bail after they have spent specific tenure in jail. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data,almost 66 per cent of the prison population comprised undertrials in 2012.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the Supreme Court that it is legally untenable and not desirable to have a fixed formula that an undertrial,facing maximum punishment of seven years,will be freed on bail after a certain period of incarceration.
Blanket grant of bail to all undertrials on the basis of a fixed formula of a specific tenure in custody,without examining the finer details of the individual cases,may not be in the interest of the society. It is necessary to consider the facts of the individual cases to see whether bail is desirable in the facts of the case,keeping also in view the legal principles, stated its affidavit.
The affidavit has been filed in response to a PIL by advocate Vijay Aggarwal,who has sought formulation of a policy for release of prisoners charged with offences carrying maximum seven years of imprisonment. The undertrials could be released on bail if they are in jail for more than a year,as per the petition. The PIL has pointed out that more than 2 lakh undertrials constituted 64.7 per cent of total prison population in 2011.
The government has however opposed a general formula for bail,asserting that role of courts was very important in balancing the aspects of personal liberty of an accused and shielding the society from misadventures of a person charged with a crime.
An innocent person sent to jail may not augur well for a just society whereas a dangerous and hardened criminal released on bail can do more harm to the society by way of destroying the evidence,threatening witnesses,evading judicial process or by committing more offences. The importance of judicial discretion in bail jurisdiction cannot therefore be understated, it said.
Tenure of imprisonment,MHA has maintained,is only one of the relevant factors in deciding the question of bail for an accused and that a court of law had to dwell on array of other reasons before granting or declining the reprieve to an applicant.
It also refuted the petitioners contention that there were anomalies in applicability of Section 436 A of the CrPC,which prescribes for bail to accused who have spent half of the maximum jail term,with the rider that a court could still deny bail in such cases on certain reasons.
MHA said Parliament in its wisdom has given a discretion with the courts so that the larger interests of the society could be protected. It added that the central and state governments were making sincere efforts to reduce overcrowding by creating new jails,enhancing facilities in jails,making new laws,etc. In January,MHA had also issued an advisory to state governments to undertake various steps to facilitate bail for undertrials,who have already spent one-fourth of likely prison term.