SC rejects 14 Oppn parties’ plea for guidelines on arrest, remand and bail of leaders

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to entertain the plea filed by 14 Opposition parties led by the Congress alleging “arbitrary use” of central probe agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against Opposition leaders and seeking a fresh set of guidelines governing the arrest, remand and bail.

After the top court did not show any interest in the petition, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for opposition parties, sought to withdraw the plea.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said that politicians stand on the same footing as citizens of this country. The top court said that the political leaders don’t enjoy immunity and can’t claim a higher identity. The court questioned how can there be a different set of procedures for them and said that there cannot be guidelines only applying to politicians.

Singhvi said that from 2013-14 to 2021-22, there is a 600 per cent increase in CBI and ED cases. “A total of 121 political leaders have been probed by ED, of which 95 per cent are from the opposition parties”, he noted. As for the CBI, out of 124 investigations, over 95 per cent are from opposition parties. This has a chilling effect on the legitimacy of political opposition, Singhvi told the Supreme Court.

However, the court was not convinced by the submission and remarked, “Can we say because of these statistics, there should be no investigation or no prosecution? Ultimately, a political leader is basically a citizen and, as citizens, we are all amenable to the same law”, the court observed.

Singhvi replied that the parties don’t want any pending case in India to be affected by the plea, and they are not here to interfere in the existing investigation.

The court said that the statistics in the petition pertain only to politicians and asked how can it lay down guidelines on arrest if there is no bodily harm or child sex abuse. The court made it clear to the petitioner that they can come to court in an individual case and the court will consider it.

Singhvi told the Supreme Court that mass arrests are a threat to democracy, it is a sign of authoritarianism and the process becomes the punishment. “Where is democracy if these people are fighting cases all the time”? Singhvi said.

The court observed that the moment the petitioner says democracy the petition is for politicians. The court said that the absence of specific facts to lay down general guidelines would be dangerous.

The opposition parties had 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 14 Opposition political parties had filed the petition before the Supreme Court of India in the 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 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 offences except those involving serious bodily violence. The petitioners said that when these conditions are not satisfied, alternatives like 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 complete within six months, the accused be released on bail even under special laws unless the conditions in the triple-test are not fulfilled.

The opposition parties 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 representative democracy. They had also given various statistics.

The parties which had approached the top court include Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rashtriya Janata 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)

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