NEW DELHI: Fourteen opposition political parties have filed petitions in the Supreme Court seeking guidelines for the arrest, remand and bail of persons in matters being probed by various agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The opposition has sought from the Supreme Court certain prospectively applicable guidelines governing the arrest, remand and bail of persons in offences (which may or may not be punishable with imprisonment for above 7 years) not involving serious bodily harm (thereby obviously excluding homicide, rape, terrorism, etc.)
The opposition political parties filed the petitions in light of the alarming rise in the use of coercive criminal processes against Opposition political leaders and other citizens exercising their fundamental right to dissent and to disagree with the present Union Government.
The petitioners said that as for arrest and remand, they sought the triple test — whether a person is a flight risk, or whether there is a reasonable apprehension of the tampering of evidence or of the influencing/intimidation of witnesses — be used by police officers/ED officials and courts alike for the arrest of persons in any cognizable offenses except those involving serious bodily violence. The petitioners said that when these conditions are not satisfied, alternatives like an interrogation at fixed hours or, at most, house arrest be used to meet the demands of investigation.
As for bail, the petitioners sought that the principle of ‘bail as a rule, jail as exception’ be followed by all courts throughout, especially in cases where non-violent offences are alleged, and that bail be denied only where the triple test is met.
The petitioners sought to harmonise the bail provisions of special laws such as PMLA with stringent bail conditions are concerned. The opposition parties also sought that if it appears that the trial is unlikely to be completed within six months, the accused be released on bail even under special laws unless the conditions in the triple test are not fulfilled.
In conclusion, the petitioners sought these guidelines to fulfill and realise the guarantee of personal liberty entrenched in Article 21 of the Constitution, for all citizens, including those targeted for exercising their right to political dissent and for performing their duties as the political opposition.
The opposition parties have said that investigating agencies such as CBI and ED are being increasingly deployed in a selective and targeted manner with a view to completely crush political dissent and upend the fundamental premises of a representative democracy.
The petition has been drawn and filed by advocate Shadan Farasat, and settled by Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. They have also given various statistics. The petitioner also said that a clear trend of using ED raids as a tool of harassment, with the action rate on raids i.e. complaints filed pursuant to raids reducing from 93 pc in 2005-2014, to 29 pc in 2014-2022.
Only 23 convictions under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (“PMLA”) have been secured as of now, even as the number of cases registered by the ED under the PMLA has risen exponentially (from 209 in 2013-14 F.Y. to 981 in 2020-21, and 1,180 in 2021-22), the petition said.
Between 2004-14, of the 72 political leaders investigated by the CBI, 43 (under 60%) were from the Opposition of the time. Now, this same figure has risen to over 95 pc. The same pattern is reflected in ED’s investigations as well, with the proportion of Opposition leaders from the total number of politicians investigated rising from 54% (before 2014) to 95% (after 2014), the petition said.
Various parties which have approached the top court include Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rashtriya Janta Dal, Bharat Rashtra Samiti, All India Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, J&K National Conference, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena Uddhav camp, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Janata Dal (United), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Samajwadi Party (SP). (ANI)