Failure to Conclude Trial Within Reasonable Time Militates Against Right to Liberty: Supreme Court Grants Bail in NDPS Case

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court of India granted bail to Ankur Chaudhary, who had been in custody for over two years under charges related to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act). The case, titled Ankur Chaudhary vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (SLP(Crl) No. 4648/2024), was heard by a vacation bench comprising Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice K.V. Viswanathan.

Background of the Case

Ankur Chaudhary was arrested in connection with FIR No. 305 of 2022, registered at Police Station Chandan Nagar, Indore, for offenses punishable under Section 8 read with Sections 22 and 29 of the NDPS Act. Despite multiple attempts to secure bail, both the trial court and the High Court of Madhya Pradesh had previously rejected his applications. The primary contention was the non-cooperation of panch witnesses and the potential involvement of the Investigation Officer as a panch witness.

Legal Issues Involved

1. Prolonged Incarceration and Right to Liberty: The Supreme Court examined whether prolonged incarceration without trial violates the fundamental right to liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

2. Validity of Panch Witnesses’ Testimonies: The court considered the implications of the panch witnesses (PW3 Sunder Pal and PW4 Vinod Rathore) not supporting the prosecution’s case.

3. Role of Investigation Officer as Panch Witness: The court deliberated on whether the Investigation Officer could be treated as a panch witness, as argued by the respondent State.

Court’s Decision

After hearing the arguments from both sides, the Supreme Court made several critical observations and decisions:

– Prolonged Incarceration: The court emphasized that failure to conclude the trial within a reasonable time, resulting in prolonged incarceration, militates against the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21. The court stated, “Failure to conclude the trial within a reasonable time resulting in prolonged incarceration militates against the precious fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.

– Panch Witnesses’ Testimonies: The court noted that the panch witnesses had not supported the prosecution’s case, which weakened the grounds for continued detention.

– Investigation Officer as Panch Witness: The court was not inclined to consider the Investigation Officer as a panch witness, contrary to the respondent State’s argument.

Observations and Order

The Supreme Court granted bail to Ankur Chaudhary, directing his release on furnishing suitable bail bonds and sureties as deemed fit by the trial court. The court also mandated that Chaudhary regularly attend the trial unless exempted by court orders. The court concluded, “Conditional liberty overriding the statutory embargo created under Section 37(1)(b) of the NDPS Act may, in such circumstances, be considered”.

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Representation

– For the Petitioner: Mr. Sidharth Dave, Sr. Adv., Ms. Akriti, Adv., Mr. Rajesh Ranjan, Adv., Mr. Adil Vasudeva, Adv., and Mr. Prateek Yadav, AOR.

– For the Respondent: Mr. Pashupathi Nath Razdan, AOR, Mr. Mirza Kayesh Begg, Adv., Ms. Maitreyee Jagat Joshi, Adv., Mr. Astik Gupta, Adv., Ms. Akanksha Tomar, Adv., Mr. Argha Roy, Adv., Ms. Ojaswini Gupta, Adv., and Ms. Ruby, Adv.

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