The Supreme Court granted anticipatory bail to a 21-year-old woman from Patna, who was booked by Bihar police under the prohibition law after her Scooty was driven by her cousin with nine bottles of liquor.
The top court also took a serious note of the fact that the girl was refused anticipatory bail by the high court, and said, “We are clearly of the view that the High Court must not abdicate its constitutional powers and ensure that the personal liberty of the accused in appropriate cases has to be safeguarded.”
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant in a recent order said, “Having regard to the facts and circumstances noted above, we confirm the ad-interim order by directing that in the event of the arrest of the appellant, she shall be released on bail forthwith subject to such terms and conditions as may be imposed by the trial court.” It said the appellant is a 21-year-old girl who was denied anticipatory bail by the high court. “Though there is an embargo in Section 76(2) of the statute, we see no reason why the High Court ought not to have exercised its power as a Constitutional court to grant anticipatory bail to protect the personal liberty of the accused, in a case such as the present where a 21-year-old girl is sought to be prosecuted following the recovery of liquor bottles from a scooty which, though belonging to her, was not being driven by her at the relevant point of time,” the bench said. It added that the refusal of the high court to grant anticipatory bail in such cases leads to a proliferation of litigation before this court. “… Many accused will not have the resources or the awareness to pursue their remedies before this court. Unless the High Court exercises its constitutional duty to protect personal liberty, they will continue to languish in jail,” the bench said.
On April 7, the top court while issuing notice to the Bihar government had granted an interim stay on the arrest of the girl in connection with an FIR registered at Police Station Rupaspur of district Patna, Bihar. It noted that the girl has been denied anticipatory bail by the impugned order of the Single Judge of the Patna High Court dated January 6. In her plea before the top court, the girl has challenged the high court order and sought anticipatory bail, apprehending arrest in the case registered for offenses punishable under Section 30(a) of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act of 2016 against the appellant and four other co-accused.
Advocate Gaurav Aggarwal, appearing for the girl, said nine bottles of liquor were allegedly recovered from a scooty belonging to the appellant and the two-wheeler was alleged to have been ridden by one of the co-accused (cousin) of the girl. The bench noted that a charge sheet has been filed in the case. Several cases arising out of the state’s prohibition law have reached the top court, which has taken a very critical view of the cases, which has started to clog the judicial system.
On April 5, in another matter, the top court was informed by the state government that “extensive amendments” have been made to the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act of 2016, which was enacted to ban the manufacture, trade, storage, transportation, sale and consumption of liquor in the state.
The apex court is seized of pleas, including the one which challenges the constitutional validity of the Act.
On March 30, the Bihar Assembly introduced and passed an amendment bill that seeks to make the law less stringent for first-time offenders in the state.
On March 10, the top court during a hearing in another matter related to the law had expressed concern over the delay in the disposal of bail matters in Patna High Court and suggested having designated benches to hear cases arising out of Bihar prohibition law will help in bringing in the consistency of relief and efficient disposal of matters.
The Patna High Court had earlier told the top court that there is a “phenomenal increase” in the filing of bail applications due to the enforcement of prohibition in the state and roughly 25 percent of regular bail pleas are being filed under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act alone.
The high court had said it is working with less than half of its sanctioned strength and the increase in the filing of bail applications is causing a delay in the disposal of regular bail pleas.
On March 8, the Bihar government assured the top court that the stringent Bihar liquor law would be changed after the court came down heavily on it for framing such legislation that has led to thousands languishing in jail and bail matters clogging the judicial system.
Similarly, on January 11, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana had in another matter dismissed a batch of petitions of the Bihar government challenging the grant of anticipatory and regular bails to accused under the state’s stringent liquor law, also saying these matters have choked the courts.
The top court had noted that it was a matter of concern if anticipatory bail applications were becoming infructuous because they were taken up for the first time after a year of their filing and regular bail applications had to be filed instead.