Mumbai: After having spent more than a year in Arthur Road jail, there is finally some ray of hope for former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal. This ‘respite’ comes after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down the controversial provision of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) which imposes some conditions for granting bail.
Post the apex court ruling, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has been compelled to realign its arguments to oppose Bhujbal’s bail plea. Bhujbal, the veteran Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader was arrested in February 2016 in connection with his role in an alleged money laundering case worth Rs. 800 crore. Since then, he has been in judicial custody and is behind the bars till date.
Till date, Bhujbal moved a plea seeking bail thrice, however, the ED advocates had always cited section 45 of the PMLA to deny him bail. This controversial section imposes two conditions for grant of bail where an offence punishable for a term of imprisonment of more than 3 years under PMLA is involved. The conditions are that the Public Prosecutor must be given an opportunity to oppose any application for release on bail and that the Court must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing the accused is not guilty of such offence, and that he is not likely to commit any offence while on bail.
However, with the SC declaring this particular section as ‘unconstitutional’ and in violation of fundamental rights of liberty and equality before the law, the ED is left with no other option but to change its line of argument. Special ED counsel Hiten Venegaonkar said, “Till date, I have argued and opposed the bail pleas (of Bhujbal) by citing this proviso along with the material collected by the agency. However, since the proviso has been struck down, now we have to change our arguments especially on this legal aspect.”
“Now we have to rely on section 24 of the PMLA which puts the onus on the accused to prove himself or herself as innocent,” Venegaonkar added. On the other hand, Bhujbal’s advocate Shalabh Saxena has welcomed the SC judgement and is hopeful that his client would be out soon. He said, “The ruling will obviously benefit us. I am hopeful that my client would get bail.” Bhujbal has approached the court for the fourth time seeking bail.