When courts in Maharashtra pulled up central agencies for ‘snail’s speed’ trials
A special court, in an order on April 11 granting bail to Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor, said that he had been without a trial for over two years and observed that no one is sure when the trials in most cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) would begin and conclude.
OMKAR GOKHALE and SADAF MODAK take a look at some of the cases where the Bombay High Court and other courts in the city have raised concerns over “snail’s speed” in proceedings in cases registered by central investigating agencies, their delayed trials and conviction rate.
On April 11, while granting bail to Kapoor in a case related to a company called Mack Star, the court said that while the ED’s case was dependent on the CBI’s predicate offence, it was not clear what action the CBI had taken after filing an FIR. The court said that no chargesheet was filed by the CBI and there was no report of any progress in the investigation. The court said that there is ‘absolutely no likelihood’ that in the near future, the CBI would file the chargesheet and the ED would take steps under the PMLA Act to bring the case before the special court for committal.
“In short, there is absolutely no possibility nor any likelihood of beginning the trial of this PMLA case in near future when the applicant has already been jailed without trial for 2 years 2 months and 3 days. All this is thwarting the valuable right of an undertrial prisoner (Kapoor) of getting tried and concluding the same at the earliest,” the court said.
The court had in February 2022 raised a similar concern while dealing with another ED case stating that the agency had not shown any active approach in beginning trials. “It is a fact that, ever since this Special Court for PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) cases has been established, not a single PMLA case has been disposed of by judgment,” the court had said.
On November 9, while granting bail to Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, the court had similarly raised the issue of delay in trials by the ED. It said that while the ED’s speed in arresting accused persons is “extraordinary” but it is slower than a snail when conducting trials and their conclusion. “Is ED not accountable for such modus operandi availed by them in not beginning and concluding a single trial?” the court had said.
The Indian Express had reported in March last year that since 2008, at least 80 cases have been filed by the ED before the designated courts with trials not begun in any.
The Bombay High Court, while granting medical bail to accused persons, has time and again cited delay in commencement of trial in the Elgaar Parishad case probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). It has also reprimanded the NIA for its delayed probe in the IS-recruits case.
On July 19, 2021, a division bench led by Justice S S Shinde, while dealing with medical bail applications of accused in the Elgaar Parishad case, had questioned the central agency as to for how many years the undertrials can languish in jail. Raising concerns over delay in commencement of trial, it had said that while granting medical bail to the Elgaar Parishad accused, including late Father Stan Swamy, Varavara Rao and Hany Babu, it had acceded on the “humane considerations,” and considered accused persons’ right of speedy trial despite the opposition of the authorities.
The HC in February 2021 granted bail to Areeb Majeed, six years after his arrest on charges of travelling to Iraq and Syria to join the terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS), citing “right to fair and speedy trial,” observing that trial would not conclude soon. Referring to Majeed’s case the HC in August 2021 and June 2022 granted bail to Iqbal Ahmed Kabit Ahmed and Mohammad Raisuddin, respectively. The two were alleged IS recruits from Parbhani booked by the NIA.
Among the cases filed by the NIA which are pending commencement of trial is the Malegaon 2006 case, where the discharge applications are pending hearing, the Elgaar Parishad case where some accused have been behind bars since 2018. The Supreme Court had in August directed the trial court to decide on framing of charges within three months.
Other cases where trials in NIA cases are yet to begin include the Gadchiroli security forces attack case of 2019 and one case pertaining to alleged terror conspiracy by a Khalistani group also filed in 2019.
The HC has also pulled up the delay in the CBI probes into the 2013 death of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar and the ICICI Bank loan fraud case among others.
While the probe into the Dabholkar murder case was transferred from Pune Police to CBI in May 2014 after a HC order, the trial in the case commenced seven years thereafter, in October 2021 and is still on before a special court in Pune. This came after HC benches led by Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Justice S S Shinde had in February 2020 and March 2021, respectively, had lashed out at the central agency for delay in investigation for several years and said that the probing agency was “inefficient” and the investigation had been reduced to a “laughing stock”. On April 18, the HC decided to discontinue monitoring the case, holding that the same was not required anymore as “the trial had commenced and was progressing steadily.”
In January this year, while hearing a plea on the case registered against former ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar, a division bench led by Justice Revati Mohite-Dere of the HC questioned the CBI as to why it took several years for the probe while the FIR was registered in 2019.
The Supreme Court last year also granted bail to Indrani Mukerjea in the CBI case, on grounds that she had been in jail for 6.5 years for the alleged murder of her daughter Sheena Bora and the trial is not going to be completed anytime soon with two-third witnesses still to be examined. Mukerjea was arrested in 2015 and was behind bars since, till her release last year.
On April 18 last week, the Bombay HC pulled up the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), which works under the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), for “no logical end” to their ongoing “endless investigation” which had commenced against Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal and wife Anita Goyal in 2019. Justice Mohite-Dere, while hearing Goyals’ plea to travel abroad, had told SFIO, “Your investigation is going on since 2019. You have to take your investigation to some logical end. Somewhere there has to be a closure in cases. You cannot go on endlessly with investigation.”
What agencies say
Central agency prosecutors said that delays are caused due to various reasons including the high pendency before the courts, applications filed by accused with discharge applications taking the most time to be heard and decided upon and the voluminous evidence in most of the cases filed by the agencies. Officials also said that since the evidence in the cases is voluminous usually, a lot of time is taken up in completing procedures and providing copies of each of the evidence to the accused before the trial can start.
Senior advocate Raja Thakare defending CBI in Kochhars’ case had told the HC that its conviction rate was “good and decent” but due to the Covid-19 pandemic there was a “slowdown”. He added that the magnitude of cases before CBI and insufficient staff are also to be considered.