The Supreme Court on Wednesday turned down social activist Gautam Navalakha’s plea for grant of default bail in the alleged Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case even as it batted for embracing the international practice of putting accused under house arrest in “deserving and suitable” cases as means to decongest prisons.
Navalakha, who approached the apex court after the Bombay high court rejected his plea for bail in the case, had sought default bail on the ground that NIA had failed to file its chargesheet within the prescribed time limit of 90 days.
He pleaded that the period for which he was under house arrest should be counted as part of judicial custody while deciding the custody period.
NIA, however, contended that the period of 34 days of Navlakha’s house arrest between August 29 and October 1, 2018, cannot be included in the period of detention.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit and K M Joseph held that an accused under house arrest should be treated as being under custody for estimating the duration of detention under section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, the justices refused to treat Navlakha’s 34 days of house arrest as part of judicial custody on the ground that the orders of the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court pertaining to his house arrest were not passed under Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
But while turning down Navlakha’s plea, the bench made a strong pitch for following the practice followed in many countries of putting the accused under house arrest instead of sending them to jail in “deserving and suitable” cases.
“We observe that under Section 167 of CrPC in appropriate cases, it will be open to courts to order house arrest. As to its employment, without being exhaustive, we may indicate criteria like age, health condition and antecedents of the accused, nature of the crime, need for other forms of custody and the ability to enforce the terms of house arrest.
We would also indicate under Section 309 that judicial custody being custody ordered, subject to following the criteria, the courts will be free to employ it in deserving and suitable cases,” the bench said.
In India, the concept of house arrest has its roots in laws providing for preventive detention like Section 5 of the National Security Act. But there is no mention of house arrest under Criminal Procedure Code.
Referring to advantages of the practice of accused being put under house arrest, the court said it will lead to avoidance of overcrowding of prisons and also save cost of running them. “There is tremendous amount of overcrowding in jails in India. Secondly, a very large sum (Rs 6818.1 crore) was the budget on prisons,” the bench said.
Read Order here: