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Directors’ jail stay extended

- SC reference cuts no ice in AMRI case
SK Todi while being brought out of the Alipore court on Thursday evening. (Pradip Sanyal)

The Alipore court on Thursday extended by a fortnight the judicial custody of six AMRI Hospitals directors, rejecting their lawyers’ plea for bail backed by a reference to a Supreme Court observation.

“This court is not the Supreme Court,” chief judicial magistrate C.H. Karim said before rejecting the defence’s submission that chances of fleeing and tampering with evidence were the reasons cited by the apex court to keep an accused behind bars.

S.K. Todi and son Ravi; R.S. Goenka, son Manish and nephew Prashant; and D.N. Agarwal will be at Alipore Central jail at least till January 19, when they will again be produced in the court.

The judicial custody of the two arrested AMRI employees — maintenance manager Sanjib Pal and senior vice-president Satyabrata Upadhyay — has also been extended till January 19.

The ruling comes a couple of days after trade body Ficci issued a statement, demanding immediate release of those “not responsible for day-to-day operations of any business”. The statement invited a sharp reaction from the chief minister.

While rejecting the bail prayer, around three-and-a-half hours after the hearing ended on Thursday afternoon, magistrate Karim said: “The case is still at a preliminary stage. The accused have been in custody for only a few days. Besides several serious sections of the IPC, they have been charged with three non-bailable sections of the Fire Services Act. The court doesn’t think they deserve bail now.”

The six directors have been in custody since December 9, the day Annexe I of AMRI Dhakuria caught fire, resulting in the loss of 91 lives.

After the bail plea was turned down, the defence lawyers pleaded for an order that the accused be at least given vegetarian food in the jail. “They are Jains. They consider onion and garlic non-vegetarian,” said one of the lawyers.

Court sources said the plea might be admitted on Friday.

For almost an hour and 20 minutes, the defence team tried to convince the magistrate that the Supreme Court’s stand on bail applied to the AMRI accused.

Counsel Kapoor cited the apex court’s observations while granting bail to five accused in the 2G case, saying: “It is not necessary to keep the directors behind bars when there is no chance that they will tamper with the evidence or flee.... The hospital directors are law-abiding citizens and the probe is over. So the directors should be released on bail.”

The defence team also drew the magistrate’s attention to the fact that the investigators had never been to Alipore Central jail to examine the accused during the 14 days of their judicial custody.

“It proves that the accused do not need to be interrogated any more. We can conclude that the probe is over. Besides, there is no chance that the accused will abscond if granted bail because Calcutta is their hometown and they run their businesses from here,” Kapoor had said in his petition.

Opposing the bail plea, public prosecutor Debasish Roy submitted that the AMRI case could not be compared with the 2G scam. “The lower court has no scope to analyse a higher court’s judgments during the hearing of a bail plea....The granting of bail depends on the nature and gravity of the crime. Moreover, in the 2G case the accused had been granted bail after the charges had been framed against them,” Roy said.

The state lawyer also pointed out that the accused were influential. “They managed a no-objection certificate from the fire brigade despite flouting norms. I am happy that this court is not the Supreme Court,” he said.

The magistrate replied: “Yes, this court is not the Supreme Court.”