The Gujarat High Court has interpreted ‘bail’ in Section 15A (5) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 while deciding applicability to bailable offences. The Court has provided a rational nexus as the applicant’s contentions were prima facie delusional.
The writ-applicant was a manager in a company in Ahmedabad. An employee of the factory filed a First Information Report for the offences punishable under the provisions of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015. The writ-applicant was arrested by the police and later released on bail by order of Special Court.
Furthermore, the applicant approached the Gujarat High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 15A (3) and (6). It was contended that hearing of the victim before granting bail was manifestly arbitrary under Article 14 of the Constitution. The new mandatory provision is an exception to general principles of granting bail. It was pleaded that no such exception must be allowed. Moreover, the nature of provision must be directory and not mandatory.
Therefore, the Court had to decide the validity of the provisions in the light of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Court noted the submission that the provision deprives the accused of his fundamental right to liberty and imposes arbitrary restriction. In addition, it was contended that the provision violates Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which is the parent statute for bail. It was observed that no legislation could be struck down unless it imposes unreasonable restrictions upon the Court. It shall always be the satisfaction of the Court to scrutinize the reasonable grounds for guilt or innocence irrespective of the appearance of the victim.
The bench also commented on the legislative intent of the said Act. The writ-applicant had contended that restricting bail without any exception condoned the misuse of the provisions. The applicant was correct in pointing out the intent, which was to prevent atrocities upon the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, permitting the victim to appear at all stages of the proceedings, including bail, does not render the same as arbitrary. The Court remarked that the applicant was misinformed as the exercise of Section 482 of CrPC prevented misuse on settled parameters, and there exists exact legal position.
Further, the Court had to decide on the nature of the impugned provision to be directory or mandatory. It asserted- “Physiology of the provisions is not by itself a determinative factor. The use of the words `shall’ or `may’, respectively would ordinarily indicate imperative or directory character, but not always.” Therefore, it was concluded that Section 15A(3) of the said Act is mandatory and not a directory.
Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J. B. Pardiwala pronounced the judgement. They held that Section 15A (3) of the said Act was not ultra vires Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. For the purpose of the bail, the provision did not impose any restriction on the discretion of the competent Court. Further, the applicant was accused of committing the bailable offence and the opportunity to hear the victim shall be decided after verifying the allegations of the victim.
Therefore, in the present case, the writ-application was rejected as the impugned provision stands right in the eyes of the law.
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