Observing that “liberty being precious to human life, bail once granted ought not to be lightly cancelled”, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday granted bail to Sanjeev Chawla, key accused in the 2000 cricket match-fixing scandal involving late South African captain Hansie Cronje. Chawla had already walked out of jail on May 4, since there was no stay on the operation of the trial court’s April 30 order, grating him bail.
Justice Asha Menon dismissed the appeal of the Delhi government, under whose administration Tihar jail comes, against the trial court’s order, by which Chawla was ordered to be released from jail on furnishing a personal bail bond of Rs two lakh with two sureties of the same amount.
“The State has not succeeded in making out a case for cancellation of bail of the respondent/accused (Chawla),” the court said, adding that “in an aside, this case brings to the fore the need for investigative agencies and the government to consider the use of advances in technology to track under-trials in cases of this nature where the State may fear that an accused may flee from trial”.
“Digital and electronic equipment, as presently used in America, ought to be introduced in India, so that a tracking system similar to the GPS Tracking System can be used to monitor the movement of the accused released on bail, allowing the authorities to gather information all the time while permitting the accused to undertake the usual and ordinary activities of normal life,” Justice Menon suggested in her 26-page order.
The order added that, in the absence of such systems in India, the trial court has adopted the next best course available, by directing Chawla to keep a mobile phone operational at all times.
“Apart from the brother of respondent/accused (Chawla), who has also been directed by the Additional Sessions Judge (of trial court) to keep his mobile phone operational at all times, this court directs that both the sureties, who have furnished the surety bonds, shall also furnish the details of their mobile phones to the SHO/IO and keep their mobile phones operational at all times.
“Further, Chawla shall make a call to the IO/SHO once a day and shall not leave Delhi except with the permission of the trial court…. Chawla shall not leave the country till the trial is concluded, which the State shall endeavour to expedite,” it said.
Justice Menon also said that the “State would be entitled to alert all exit/transit points accordingly, to ensure that there is no attempt by the respondent/accused to leave the country.”
On Saturday, the High Court had reserved its order on Delhi Police’s appeal against the trial court’s decision to grant bail on the ground that Chawla is a British national and it took 20 years to bring him to India, adding that there was likelihood of him fleeing from justice.
Senior counsel Vikas Pahwa and advocate Jagjit Nanda, however, had opposed the police’s claim before the high court, saying the accused is in judicial custody since February 12 and had spent 76 days in jail. As per the police, Chawla and Cronje were named in the chargesheet filed on July 23, 2013 by the Crime Branch for ‘fixing matches played between India and South Africa from February 16, 2000 to March 20, 2000 in India’.
The case is pending trial before the court and the next hearing is on May 14. The match-fixing scandal broke in April 2000, when Delhi Police intercepted a conversation between Chawla and Cronje, in which it was learnt that the latter had accepted money to lose matches. Chawla has also been accused of offering money to two England players in August 1999.
While releasing Chawla on bail, the high court also noted that “out of the remaining four accused persons, three were arrested in the year 2000 when the FIR was registered.”
“Till date, admittedly, not even the charge has been framed against any one of them. The other three accused persons have been on bail since the year 2000 and 20 years later, they continue to remain on bail with no trial in sight.
“Even today, the petitioner/State (Delhi police) submits that the investigations are still going on and the voice sample and specimen of handwriting of respondent/accused is also to be gathered. The trial scenario being so stark, liberty of a person cannot be left in limbo only on account of the belief of the State that the respondent/accused is a flight risk,” it said.
The order further observed that “merely because Chawla has been given special facilities in the Tihar Jail would be no reason to deny him the benefit of the Covid-19 guidelines and for this purpose, for an offence under Section 420 of the IPC, it would be improper to differentiate between an Indian and a foreign citizen.”