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The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that bail cannot be made conditional upon heavy deposits beyond the financial capacity of an applicant for bail.
A Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi passed an order to this effect today in an appeal against an order of the Madras High Court.
The case relates to the stampede that occurred at Chithra Pournami festival when about seven pilgrims were killed and 10 injured in a stampede outside the temple of Lord Sri Vaalavaikkum Vandithurai Karuppannasamy in Tiruchirapalli District, Tamil Nadu.
The petitioner MD Dhanapal, who was the Chief Priest at the temple, was arrested pursuant to the FIR in connection with the accident.
By an order of April 30, the Madras High Court granted bail to the petitioner on the condition that he would pay Rs. 10 lakh each by bank drafts in the name of one of the family members/legal heirs of each of the deceased pilgrim who was killed in the stampede.
Aggrieved by the onerous condition of having to pay a total amount of Rs. 70 lakh upfront, as a condition for bail, the petitioner challenged the said order before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in its order noted that the High Court could not be faulted since the order passed by the High Court made it abundantly clear that the offer to pay Rs. 10 lakh to the family members of each of the deceased was made by the petitioner’s lawyer.
The Court, however, recorded the submissions by the petitioner that he renders devotional services in a relatively small Temple at Tiruchirapalli, with little income and does not have the requisite funds to make the payment.
Even otherwise, bail cannot be made conditional upon heavy deposits beyond the financial capacity of an applicant for bail, the Court made it clear.
“If the petitioner lacks funds, undertaking ought not to have been given to the Court. Be that as it may, it is well settled that bail cannot be made conditional upon heavy deposits beyond the financial capacity of an applicant for bail.”
The Court also noted the fact that the petitioner was not even named in the FIR. Further, the Court also went to the extent of stating that from the averments in the FIR, it did not appear that the petitioner was responsible for the deaths.
“There appears to have been suffocation due to congestion and rush.”
Even otherwise, incarceration of the petitioner is not necessary for investigation and there was nothing on record to indicate that the petitioner will evade the process of law or tamper with evidence if set at liberty, the Bench observed.
The Court, therefore, waived the condition of payment to the family members/legal heirs of the deceased victims for grant of bail.
“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case and the allegations in the F.I.R., we deem it appropriate to waive the condition of payment to the family members/legal heirs of the deceased victims for the purpose of grant of bail. The concerned Judicial Magistrate may grant bail on conditions as he may deem fit to his satisfaction.”
Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora and advocate Jagjit Singh Chhabra appeared for the petitioner. Advocates Meha Ashok Aggarwal, S Parthasarathi and Yogesh Kanna appeared for the respondent.