The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi on 06.05.2020 directed investigative agencies and the government to consider the use of GPS tracking system to track under trials out on bail so that they do not flee from justice.
The judgement was pronounced in response to the petition filed against the bail granted to Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, a cricket rookie who was allegedly involved in the India-South Africa Cricket Test Series which was to be played in the months of February to March, 2000 and who was recently extradited to India.
Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, who is one of the main accused in the match-fixing scandal that also involved late South Africa captain Hansie Cronje, was granted bail by the Additional Sessions Judge, of Patiala House Courts, New Delhi vide order dated 30.04.2020 on furnishing a personal bond of Rs. 2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lakh Only /-). Under the same order, he was also directed to give his voice sample and specimen handwriting to the Investigating Officer.
The present petition was filed against the order dated 30.04.2020 under which Sanjeev Chawla was granted bail. Sanjay Jain, Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Petitioner submitted that the judgement passed by the Sessions Court had failed to consider the grave allegations against the Respondent and considered irrelevant factors to grant bail by overlooking all the relevant factors. Further submitting that the Respondent had been evading investigations all these years and the fact that his presence was secured only after a long-drawn extradition proceeding, it was prayed to the Hon’ble High Court to cancel his bail.
Mr. Jain also added that, since the Respondent was a foreign national and had not spent three months in jail, the guidelines passed with respect to release of under-trial prisoners due to COVID-19 were not applicable in the present case. Furthermore, the Respondent’s voice sample and specimen handwriting were also not submitted till date.
On the other hand, Mr. Vikas Pahwa, Senior Advocate appearing for the Respondent, stated that there was no evidence to prove the Respondent’s intention of absconding from the country or to hamper the course of investigation in any manner. Further Mr. Pahwa pointed out to the Hon’ble High Court that in the last 13 years from 2004 onwards, not even a single notice via post or email was sent to the Respondent by the Investigating Agencies, except for one email to his solicitor for voice sample thus stating that delay in the extradition proceedings could not to be attributed to the Respondent.
It was also submitted by the Respondent that as per the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the High Court for release of under-trials in jail to de-congest the prisons, further relaxation covered the cases with imprisonment upto 10 years. Merely because the Respondent was a foreign national, he could not be barred from praying for grant of the benefit under the guidelines for release.
After considering all the merits of the present case, Justice Asha Menon reserved its order on the plea seeking cancellation of regular bail granted to Sanjeev Chawla. Stating that there was no disclosure through action or words that the Respondent intends to thwart the process of justice or prevent fair trial, the bail granted to him vide order dated 30.04.2020 cannot be cancelled.
Furthermore, Justice Asha Menon brought attention towards the need for investigative agencies and the Government to consider the use of advances in technology to track under-trials in cases where the State may fear that an accused may flee from trial. Justice Menon thus stated as follows, “Digital and electronic equipment, as presently used in America, ought to be introduced in India, so that a tracking system similar to the GPS Tracking System, can be used to monitor the movement of the accused released on bail, allowing the authorities to gather information all the time while permitting the accused to undertake the usual and ordinary activities of normal life”.
The High Court appreciated the trial court for using alternatives like GPS tracking system in the absence of advance technology in India and said that the Sessions Judge had adopted the next best course available by directing the accused to keep a mobile phone operational at all times.
The High Court directed Sanjeev Chawla and both his sureties to furnish the details of their mobile phones to the SHO/IO and keep their mobile phones operational at all times. Further, the Respondent Sanjeev Chawla should make a call to the IO/SHO once a day and should not leave Delhi except with the permission of the court. The court also said that the Respondent could not leave the country till the trial is concluded.
The present petition for cancellation of the Respondent’s bail was thus dismissed by the Hon’ble High Court.