The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern over delay in disposal of bail matters in Patna High Court and suggested that having designated benches to hear cases arising out of Bihar prohibition law will help in bringing in the consistency of relief and efficient disposal of matters.

A Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S Oka said that once charge sheet is filed, where is the need to detain accused in magistrate triable offences. There is a huge pendency in the High Court and there is something wrong with the state. We have come to know that about 60 per cent of Judges of total judges (at Patna High Court) are hearing only bail matters. It is not a bail Court but a constitutional Court, the Bench said.

The Bench observed that the suggestion of having designated benches to hear prohibition matters and to hear all cases where the maximum sentence was seven years or less, will bring in the consistency of relief granted and help in efficient disposal.

The Bench was hearing a petition relating to the delayed listing of a bail application in the Patna High Court and asked the High Court to consider the feasibility of implementing suggestions made to it in this regard by Advocate Shoeb Alam.

The Apex Court had earlier asked Alam and other advocates appearing in the matter for suggestions to tackle the problem of delayed listing and huge pendency of bail applications in the Patna High Court.

It asked Advocate Gaurav Agrawal representing the High Court, to forward the suggestions to the High Court for consideration.

Alam pointed out that the suggestions made in the note are based on CrPC provisions and on Supreme Court judgments and provisions of CrPC and Judgments regarding arrest need to be implemented across the country in order to help in reduction in pendency of bail applications.

The principle of bail is the rule and jail and exception' is only restricted to the courtroom, whereas in reality, it is a jail that is the rule and bails the exception. We are a trigger-happy nation where the arrest is made not because it is necessary but merely because the police officer can arrest without application of mind. Ultimately it is an Article 21 issue, he submitted.

The Bench said let us apply this in Bihar on a pilot basis and see what the result is. We will pass directions if required.

The Apex Court referring to the implementation of provisions of CrPC and the guidelines laid down in the Arnesh Kumar Judgment said that there was little compliance of those principles in practice.

It posted the matter for further hearing on April 19.

On January 14, the top court had expressed serious concern over the delay in pendency of bail applications before the high court and the long incarceration of undertrial prisoners due to delay in hearing of their bail applications.

It had invited suggestions from parties to the case and from advocate Shoeb Alam, who was present in the court.

The Patna High Court had earlier told the top court that there is a phenomenal increase in the filing of bail applications due to the enforcement of prohibition in the state and roughly 25 per cent of regular bail pleas are being filed under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act alone.

The high court had said it is working with less than half of its sanctioned strength and the increase in the filing of bail applications is causing a delay in disposal of regular bail pleas.

It had informed the apex court that at present 39,622 bail applications, which include 21,671 anticipatory and 17,951 regular bail applications, are pending before the assigned benches. Further, 36,416 fresh bail applications, including 20,498 anticipatory and 15,918 regular bail applications, are yet to be taken up.

On January 11, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana had in another matter dismissed a batch of petitions of the Bihar government challenging the grant of anticipatory and regular bails to accused under the state's stringent liquor law, saying these matters have choked the courts.

The Apex Court was hearing a plea of petitioner Abhyanand Sharma, represented by Advocate AR Takkar, who had approached the Court in a writ petition in an Excise Act offence, aggrieved by the non-listing of his regular bail application by the Patna High Court.

The Apex Court noted that it was a matter of concern if anticipatory bail applications were becoming infructuous because they were taken up for the first time after a year of their filing and regular bail applications had to be filed instead.

The Apex Court had agreed with the suggestion made by Alam that from an Article 21 perspective and in order to reduce the burden on the high court, provisions of Section 436-A CrPC should be employed, which provides for the grant of statutory bail to any person facing an investigation or trial if such person has been in custody for more than one half of the maximum sentence specified for that offence.

Alam had submitted that in 2015, a three-Judge bench of the top court had directed jurisdictional Magistrates and Sessions Judges to visit the prisons in their jurisdiction at least once every week and grant statutory bail to eligible prisoners under the said provision from the prison itself.

With PTI inputs