While considering an appeal filed under Section 21 of the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008 (2008 Act), challenging an order of rejection of bail application arising out of an FIR lodged under Sections 304, 153-A and 120-B IPC and Sections 13, 18, 18A, 18B, 20, 23 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) and Sections 3, 4 & 5 of Explosive Substance Act, 1908, the Punjab & Haryana High Court held that the prosecution not being able to connect the appellant with the charge under Section 20 of the UAPA Act which would be punishable for life on the ground that he was a member of the terrorist gang, the same would entitle the appellant for the benefit of regular bail, during the pendency of the trial.

The Division Bench of Justice G.S Sandhawalia and Justice Rajesh Bhardwaj observed that “It is pertinent to notice that under Section 153A IPC, the maximum punishment is only 3 years whereas under Section 13 of the 1967 Act, it is upto 7 years. It is only under Section 20 of the UAPA, the sentencing may extend to imprisonment for life. The appellant having undergone almost 4 years of detention cannot be expected to continue in detention merely on account of the fact that the offences are serious as per the prosecution version”.

Advocate Sumit Kalyan appeared for the Appellant, whereas Advocate Sukhdeep Singh Sandhu appeared for the Respondent.

The brief facts of the case were that an FIR was lodged by the NIA on the information being received by the Central Government regarding a bomb blast at a religious event. The applicant though not named in the FIR, was arrested at a later stage of the investigation by the Punjab Police due to his associated role and accordingly, has been held not entitled for concession of bail. The Trial Court denied bail after finding involvement of the appellant with various other co-accused from the year 2013- 2014 in the radicalization by one Bikramjit Singh and allegation of him becoming a member of the terrorist gang founded by co-accused for committing terrorist acts. It was held that the applicant was inclined to Pro-Khalistani ideology and was sharing posts on myriad issues relating to Khalistan and Referendum 2020 and using the social media platform for spreading propaganda against Government of India.

After considering the submission, the Bench found that the appellant has not been charged for the serious incident of retrieving the bombs from any pit when they had got exploded or of arranging explosive materials and making and throwing crude bombs and concealing the same and neither he has been charged for a terrorist attack at Muradpura Dera by throwing bombs or testing the same.

The Bench therefore observed that the charge under Section 20 of the UAPA Act of having formed a terrorist gang and having committed any offence prima facie could not be linked with others in the form of any credible evidence in the investigation.

Highlighting that two of the co-accused have also been granted bail who had been in custody for over 2 years and 4 months and 3 years and 2 months, respectively, the Bench observed that the dismissal of earlier bail application more than 2 ½ years ago would not be a bar as such for fresh consideration and it was not appropriate for the Trial Court to say that no fresh cause of action has arisen.

Observing that the trial is creeping along and there has been no substantial progress and therefore, the Bench stated that it was not justified in holding that only the Constitutional Courts would have the power to grant bail as Section 43-C of the UAPA provides for application of the provisions of CrPC.

It was also the bounden duty of the Trial Court to examine the role of the appellant by meticulously perusing the challan and keeping in mind the restrictions imposed under the provisions of Section 43-D and merely because a charge had been framed would not be a ground to deny the benefit of bail”, added the Bench.

Therefore, noticing that it is not the case of the respondents that the appellant is involved in other cases and has a criminal background, the High Court allowed the appeal.

Cause Title: Chandeep Singh v. National Investigation Agency [Neutral Citation: 2023: PHHC: 118039-DB]

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