New Delhi, Sept. 21: The Supreme Court has said a long period of detention in jail as an undertrial was not illegal in non-bailable offences but permitted the managing director of a now-bankrupt financial company, who spent over 10 years behind bars, to seek bail.
Pramod Kumar Saxena, MD of Imperial Forestry Corporation Ltd, is facing 48 cases in six states and has been in Bareilly district jail since his arrest in August 1998.
He had approached the Supreme Court under Article 32 for enforcement of his fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, 20 and 21 of the Constitution.
He is facing charges under Sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 409 (criminal breach of trust by banker, merchant or agent) and 420 (cheating) read with Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC, 1860.
He is also facing cheque bouncing charges under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
Saxena has claimed he was the MD of the company till October 30, 1994. He also resigned as director in February 1998.
During his tenure as MD, there were no complaints of any kind from any investor either over non-clearance of cheques or for non-payment of dues of depositors.
Later on, however, the financial position of the company became precarious. Panicky investors tried to apply for refund of their deposits, leading to its collapse.
Saxena has claimed that since his arrest, he has not been produced before the magistrate, so he could not apply for bail.
Trial had not commenced although so many years had passed. In other cases, though, the charges have been framed, hundreds of witnesses are likely to be examined and it would take several years to complete the cases, he said.
In some cases, even though Saxena was ordered to be released on bail, he wasnt as other cases were pending against him, he claimed.
Saxena claimed he had committed no offence as he was director long before the company went bust. He was only in jail as his case was yet to be tried and decided.
He also cited Section 436A of the CrPC (Amendment) Act, 2005, which provides that an undertrial — other than one accused of an offence punishable with death — could be released on a personal bond with or without sureties if he has undergone detention for a period extending to half the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the alleged offence.
The prosecution, though, claimed the accused allegedly collected crores from the public by way of fixed deposits in Uttar Pradesh.
However, the apex court held that mere long incarceration in jail would not be per se illegal.
If the petitioner has committed non-bailable offences and in connection with those offences, he is in jail, his custody can never be said to be unlawful or contrary to law and he is not entitled to be enlarged on bail, it said.
But the court treated Saxenas case sympathetically on the ground that even if he were to be convicted the period he would have undergone by that date might be more than the sentence imposed on him.
He was permitted to apply for bail provided he surrendered his passport and turned up for his court appearances.