Inconvenience Of Accused To Approach Court Seeking Permission To Travel Abroad Not A Reason To Dilute Such Bail Condition: SC

To start with, we ought to know fully well that the Supreme Court just recently on October 21, 2019 in a notable judgment titled Barun Chandra Thakur vs. Ryan Augustine Pinto & Anr. In Criminal Appeal No. 1618 of 2019 (Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 9873 of 2019 (@ SLP (Cri.) Diary No. 26654 of 2019) has observed categorically and convincingly that mere inconvenience in the matter of approaching the court seeking permission to travel abroad cannot be a reason to dilute such condition imposed in an anticipatory bail order. The Apex Court Bench comprising of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Ravindra Bhat had observed thus in an appeal filed by a victim’s father against the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that diluted conditions in the anticipatory bail order by allowing an application filed by the accused. Very rightly so!

First and foremost, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this noteworthy judgment wherein it is pointed out that, “Delay condoned. Permission to file SLP is granted. Leave granted. With the consent of counsel of the parties, the appeal was heard finally.”

Delving deeper, it is then pointed out in para 2 that, “The respondent had approached the Punjab & Haryana High Court seeking modification of orders made previously, which had granted anticipatory bail to him. By the impugned order, the conditions governing his anticipatory bail were modified. In these circumstances, the father of the victim of the crime has approached this Court, claiming to be aggrieved by the modifications in the impugned order.”

To recapitulate, it is then pointed out in para 3 that, “The facts necessary for the purpose of this order are brief: a First Information Report (FIR No. 250 dated 08.09.2017) was registered for offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) read with Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959, Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2005 and Section 12 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POSCO) at Police Station, Bhondsi. Investigation of the said case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (for brevity “CBI”). Consequently, the case was again registered on 29.09.2017. The respondent was released on interim bail on 07.10.2017, upon furnishing bail bond to the satisfaction of the investigation agency, subject to statutory terms and conditions.”

While going into the nitty gritty of the case, para 4 then reveals that, “The interim bail was subsequently made absolute on 21.11.2017. One of the conditions stipulated in the order of the final bail was that he would not leave India without prior permission of the Court. This order was appealed by a Special Leave Petition. That petition was dismissed on 11.12.2017. After the grant of interim bail, the respondent sought leave to travel abroad for about three weeks between 19.01.2018 and 09.02.2018. By an order dated 18.01.2018, permission was granted. The respondent approached the High Court thereafter, with an application for modification of order granting bail, in so far as the order imposed the restriction on his travel. That application was permitted to be withdrawn. Yet again, on another application CRM-M No. 55170/2018 was filed. In this application, the respondent argued that the CBI had not gathered any incriminating material against him, and that the charge-sheet was filed on 05.02.2018, did not contain any allegation regarding his involvement and role in that crime, and further investigation was kept open under Section 173(8) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short, “CrPC”).”

Furthermore, it is then pointed out in para 5 that, “In this second application for modification, it was argued that the respondent frequently travelled abroad and the condition of having to secure prior permission was cumbersome and extremely inconvenient. The respondent, in support of his application placed reliance upon certain judgments, including a judgment of this court. The CBI opposed the application, emphasizing that the conditions imposed were not unreasonable, but in the larger interest of justice. It was also pointed out that the conditions were imposed by virtue of Section 437 of the CrPC.”

Most importantly, it is then very rightly held by the Apex Court Bench in para 9 that, “On an overall conspectus of the circumstances, this court is of the opinion that since the charge-sheet had been filed, there was no material alteration in the facts, justifying the High Court to modify the conditions governing the grant of anticipatory bail. Significantly, an identical application for modification of the conditions of bail was made earlier by the respondent, which did not meet with success; he withdrew that application. There could be no gainsaying to that the right to travel abroad is a valuable one and an integral part of the right to personal liberty. Equally, however, the pre-condition of securing prior permission before travelling abroad is a crucial ingredient which undoubtedly was engrafted as a condition for the grant of anticipatory bail in this case. Mere inconvenience in the matter of approaching the court, therefore absent of any significant change of circumstances (i.e. framing of charges or no significant or serious material emerging during the trial, in the course of deposition of key witnesses, as to the role of the respondent), ought not to have led to dilution of the terms of the High Court’s previous consistent orders. At best, the condition for seeking permission before travelling abroad could have been regulated, not deleted altogether.”

Finally, it is then held in para 10 that, “Having regard to the above, this Court is of the opinion that the impugned order cannot be sustained; it is accordingly set aside. The condition originally imposed upon the respondent as a part of the order granting anticipatory bail to secure prior permission before travelling abroad is hereby restored. At the same time, the trial court is enjoined and directed to deal with the application seeking permission, whenever made, as expeditiously as possible and in any case, ensure that orders are made within one week of filing it (i.e., application seeking prior permission). It goes without saying that such orders shall be made after considering the view of the CBI and taking note of relevant factors, and at the same time, ensuring that reasonable period before undertaking the travel is also given.” The last para 11 then winds up the judgment by saying that, “The appeal is allowed in the above terms.”

In essence, the long and short of this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment is that mere inconvenience of the accused in the matter of approaching the court seeking permission to travel abroad cannot be a reason to dilute such condition imposed in an anticipatory bail order! While pooh-poohing the leniency displayed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Apex Court Bench minced just no words to make it absolutely clear that, “At best, the condition for seeking permission before travelling abroad could have been regulated, not deleted altogether.” Very rightly so! All the High Courts and lower courts must always keep this in mind what the Apex Court Bench comprising of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Ravindra Bhat have laid down so categorically and convincingly! There can be no denying or disputing it!

Sanjeev Sirohi