India’s system of bail and personal liberty

Synopsis– India’s bail system is facing in urgent need of reforms. 

The refusal to grant of bail violates right to liberty of individuals undergoing criminal prosecution by confining them in jails without trial and conviction.  

What is bail? 

The bail is the security given by the defendant, it acts like a surety or guarantee for the defendant to show up in the court at a later date when summoned  

  • The surety may be cash, the papers giving title to property, or the bond of private persons of means or of a professional bondsman or bonding company.

What are the concerns regarding granting of bail in India? 

  • First, routine rejection of bail by subordinate courts for the simplest of an offence.  
      • Moreover, the majority of people arrested under excise laws belong to marginalized communities. More than two-thirds of the inmates are undertrials from Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities, often accused of minor offenses. 
  • Second, Pending bail pleas– The Courts should decide regular bail application within a maximum time period of 7 days from filing. Sadly, in practice, it is observed accused languish in jails for months waiting for disposal of his bail application. 
      • The pendency of bail applications has increased during the pandemic due to the shutting down of courts and the exacerbation of arrests for minor offences by the police. 
  • Third, High sureties to secure freedom– The bail amount in session courts, even for petty offences is a minimum of ₹10,000 and ₹30,000 in the case bail before the High Courts and the Supreme Court. 
  • This is a form of injustice when a majority of regular wage workers, 57% Indians earn less than ₹10,000 per month.  
  • Common citizens without the means or resources to move the High Courts or the Supreme Court were languishing in jails as undertrials. 
  • A bogey of middlemen has also emerged due to these high bail amounts. 

Example of absurd bail conditions- 

  • CASE – The Gwalior Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court has granted bail to two accused in a criminal case on the condition that they install a non-China made LED TV screen at the Gwalior District Hospital. 
  • The same single-judge bench had directed the petitioners to register themselves with the district magistrate concerned as ‘COVID-19 Warrior’ so that they are assigned suitable work taking all prescribed precautions.  

Grant of bail on the condition to deposit cash relief fund is improper and unjust. 

Way forward 

  • The courts while granting/disposing of bail applications ideally should draw a fine balance between the individual liberty and the interest of the society without compromising on either. 
  • While granting bail the court must also look at the socio-economic plight of the accused must also have a compassionate attitude towards them. 
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