SC grants bail to Rakesh Paul

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New Delhi, Aug 16 (PTI): Personal liberty cannot be compromised at the altar of what the State may perceive as justice, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said while granting bail to former Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) chairman Rakesh Kumar Paul in a case of alleged corruption.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur, in a majority ruling of 2:1, said that Paul was entitled to ‘default bail’ and the trial judge should release him on such terms and conditions as may be reasonable.

In the majority verdict, concurred by Justice Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, the apex court said that “in matters of personal liberty, we cannot and should not be too technical and must lean in favour of personal liberty”.

“The truth is that personal liberty cannot be compromised at the altar of what the State might perceive as justice – justice for one might be perceived as injustice for another.

“We are therefore unable to agree with counsel for the State that the petitioner is not entitled to his liberty through what is commonly referred to as default bail or that the justice of the case should persuade us to decide otherwise,” Justice Lokur said in his verdict.

The apex court was hearing the plea filed by the former Assam PSC chairman after his bail pleas were rejected by the Gauhati High Court twice. Paul was arrested on November 5 last year after an FIR was lodged against him under various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and a charge sheet was filed on January 24 this year.

The apex court dealt with the issue of whether an accused could be kept in custody for a maximum period of 60 days or for 90 days without a charge sheet being filed. In his dissenting verdict, Justice P C Pant held that the allegations did not disclose merely an economic offence but it showed a transgression of the constitutional rights of the victims of the crime.

“The Chairman of the APSC has the responsibility on behalf of the State for enforcement of the fundamental rights of equality in matters of public employment enshrined under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. “If the allegations are found to be true, then the offence cannot merely be considered as an economic offence, but a fraud on the Constitution itself by the persons appointed to enforce it,” Justice Pant said while refusing to grant bail, even on merit.

While concurring with the verdict of Justice Lokur, Justice Gupta added that the probe agencies must investigate all the cases efficiently using latest scientific technology. “If investigation is done scientifically and efficiently by the police officials, who are earmarked and trained to do investigation work, then I see no reason why investigation cannot normally be completed even within a period of 15 days, as envisaged in the year 1898,” Justice Gupta said.

He said “the Code (CrPC) was initially enacted in the year 1898. We are now in the year 2017. 119 years have elapsed. There have been huge technological advancements. We have moved from horse-carts to the space age. From telegraph, we have moved to the fast changing vistas in the field of telecommunications including internet, wifi etc. Scientific investigation is the need of the hour”.

The state had told the high court that assuming the petitioner could be detained only for a maximum period of 60 days during investigation, he had not applied for ‘default bail’, that is bail in default of the prosecution filing a charge sheet against him soon after that 60 day period of detention, but had only applied for ‘regular bail’. The State had contended that the petitioner was not entitled to his liberty through ‘default bail’.

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