The Bombay High Court bench of Justices Sambhaji Shinde and Nizamoodin Jamadar on Monday asked the National Investigations Agency (NIA) as to for how many years could an undertrial be languishing in jail without trial. The bench was referring to the fact that several rights activists, some of them senior citizens, arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case, have been in prison without charges being framed against them, since last three years.
The bench also stated that it has "great respect for Father Stan Swamy and his work, rendered to the society."
The bench was hearing a plea filed by deceased Jesuit Priest Stan Swamy, who had sought interim bail on medical grounds.
Notably, Swamy died on July 5 while his plea was pending before the bench led by Justice Shinde.
On Monday, when the matter came up for hearing, senior counsel Mihir Desai appearing for Swamy urged the bench allow Father Mascarenhas to participate in the Magistrate enquiry under section 176 CrPC. This enquiry is being conducted on orders of the bench as Swamy died while in custody.
During the hearing, Justice Shinde referred to the criticism being meted out to the HC after Swamy's death.
"We have been agreeing to the requests of Swamy right from day one to get medical attention. We are speechless outside (of the court). You (Desai) can clarify the position out that we have always agreed with you," Justice Shinde observed, adding, "We even granted medical bail to Varavara Rao in this case and even allowed Hany Babu to get treatment in his choice of hospital. No one is mentioning that."
"We always considered humanity and have been fair to all the parties involved in this case. In fact, there was huge opposition even to Rao's plea but we granted him bail and even allowed his family members to meet him in hospital," the judge pointed out.
Further referring to Swamy, the bench said it always respected him. "Stan Swamy was such a wonderful person and had rendered such services to the society. We have too much of respect for his work for the society, irrespective of the legal position now," Justice Shinde said while allowing Fr Mascarenhas to participate in the Magistrate enquiry.
At this, special public prosecutor Sandesh Patil for the NIA pointed out that the people are evening blaming the jail authorities and the agency along with the judiciary.
"We can't control who says what, outside this court," Justice Shinde said, adding, "But lets be practical. There should be clarity as to how many years without trial people can be asked to languish in jails."
The judge clarified that this was for all the cases including the Bhima-Koregaon violence case. "In this case (Bhima-Koregaon) even charges arent framed. Ultimately, speedy trial is a fundamental right and we all need to consider this fact always," Justice Shinde said.
Referring to Swamy's funeral, Justice Shinde said, "I usually never watch TV or read newspapers because as judges we have very less time for personal issues. I have said all this today because I happened to watch Swamy's funeral. It was done with grace."