The Gujarat High Court dismissed the bail application of Oreva Group CMD (Chief Managing Director) Jaysukhbhai Odhavjibhai Bhalodia (Patel) in Morbi Bridge Collapse case.

The Court said that the dilapidated condition of the bridge was well within the knowledge of the accused.

A Single Bench of Justice Divyesh A. Joshi observed, “It is also found out from the record that present applicant accused is Managing Director of the company to whom the work of renovation and repairing of the suspension bridge was entrusted by the Nagarpalika by executing MOU. It is also an admitted fact that since the year 2008 the said work was being carried out by the company of the present applicant accused and applicant has made correspondence to the Collector as well as head of the Nagarpalika inter alia stating that the bridge is old one and condition of bridge is not up to the mark and repairing work is badly needed and required to be carried out by investing huge amount of money and the contents of the letters purportedly written by the applicant accused on the letterhead of the company would clearly go on to show that the condition of the bridge was in bad shape. Therefore, at this juncture, at least, it can be said that the fact about dilapidated condition of the bridge was well within the knowledge of the present applicant accused.”

Senior Advocates Nirupam D. Nanavaty and Jal Unwalla appeared for the applicant/accused while Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin and APP Manan Mehta appeared for the respondents. Advocate Utkarsh Dave appeared for the Victims’ Association.

In this case, the counsel for the applicant submitted that the accused was arrested on January 31, 2023 and since then he was behind the bars. The investigation was already completed and after submission of charge-sheet, the application was preferred. The so-called fateful incident took place on October 30, 2022 and on the same day FIR was registered and the accused thereafter preferred an application for anticipatory bail before the concerned Trial Court. However, in the meantime, the investigating officer filed the charge-sheet before the competent Court having jurisdiction to conduct the trial. Therefore, accused surrendered and since then he was in judicial custody. An unforeseen incident had occurred on October 30, 2022, whereby ‘Julto Pul’ (suspension bridge) situated over Macchu River at Morbi had collapsed and thereby 135 persons died and more than 100 persons were injured.

It was alleged that the aforesaid incident occurred due to improper repairs and maintenance of the said suspension bridge and due to mechanical lapses and for many other reasons. It was mentioned in the FIR that on the date of incident more than 250 to 300 persons were present on the said bridge. An FIR was registered against the company to whom the task of maintenance of the bridge was assigned, against the management of the said company and also against all such individuals whose names came on surface during the course of investigation. The accused was a businessman and Managing Director of Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd. (OREVA Group), which undertakes various business activities, and more particularly, manufacturing of clocks and lighting products.

The High Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “It is true that to grant or to refuse bail is a matter of judicial discretion. But, at the same time, as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Gudikanti Narasimhulu v. Public Prosecutor, High Court of AP, reported in 1978 AIR (SC) 429, the vesting of discretion is the unspoken but inescapable, silent command of our judicial system, and those who exercise it will remember that discretion, when applied to a court of justice, means sound discretion guided by law. It must be governed by rule, not by humor; it must not be arbitrary, vague and fanciful, but legal and regular.”

The Court added that the Court must not yield to spasmodic sentiment to unregulated benevolence and thus, the discretion means sound discretion guided by law; and it must be governed by rule and it must not be arbitrary, vague and fanciful but legal and regular and in the case of granting bail, the judicial discretion of Judge must be exercised not in opposition to, but in accordance with the established principle of law.

“There cannot be any dispute with regard to the ratio laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the decisions relied on by learned Senior Advocate Mr. Nanavaty for the applicant. However, at the same time, while considering the bail application, this Court has to consider the gravity of offence, severity of the punishment in the event of conviction, the position and standing of the accused, reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with, etc. Thus, the aforesaid decisions would not render any assistance to the applicant accused in the facts of the present case”, also noted the Court.

The Court further observed that the accused was having knowledge that such kind of unfortunate incident might have occurred for want of proper maintenance of the suspension bridge and even after having sufficient knowledge of the condition of the bridge, despite that, he gave permission to open the bridge for public. It said that if the accused being the head of the company would have taken sufficient corrective measures then such kind of unforeseen incident could have been prevented and valuable and precious lives of innocent persons could have been saved.

“… the applicant accused was having sufficient knowledge right from the beginning, the nature and gravity of the charges, severity of the punishment in the event of conviction, position and standing of the accused in the society as he being a businessman and when the applications preferred by the victims before the concerned Sessions Court for further investigation and addition of section etc. are pending, I am not inclined to entertain present bail application at this juncture”, concluded the Court.

Accordingly, the High Court dismissed the application.

Cause Title- Jaysukhbhai Odhavjibhai Bhalodia (Patel) v. State of Gujarat

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