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Case AnalysisRitu Chhabaria versus Union of India & Ors




INTRODUCTION

In the matter of a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, the case at hand revolves around Ritu Chhabaria (hereafter called the petitioner) seeking the release of her husband on default bail. This writ petition was filed at The Supreme Court of India and the case was presented before Justice Krishna Murari and Justice C.T. Ravikumar. The petitioner alleges misuse of supplementary chargesheets, obstructing the husband's entitlement to default bail and raising crucial questions regarding preserving personal liberty under Article 21. The case delves into the intricacies of criminal proceedings, investigating the actions of the officers, and the delicate balance between individual rights and the duty of the State to conduct thorough investigations. As the court deals with these issues, it plays a pivotal role in examining constitutional principles and protecting fundamental rights in criminal proceedings in India.


FACTS OF THE CASE

  • An FIR was filed under Section 120 (B) and Section 420 of the IPC along with Sections 7, 12, and 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The petitioner’s husband’s name was absent from the list of initial suspects.

  • The Husband (hereby called the accused), who formerly served as the Prosecution’s witness, was later implicated as a suspect in supplementary chargesheets.

  • The accused was arrested by the CBI on April 28, 2022. The accused’s custody was protracted under Section 309(2) of Cr. P.C. resulting in multiple extensions of remands.

  • The petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 32 seeking default bail for her husband.

  • Petitioner filed I. A No. 37424/2023, seeking an expansion of the grounds for bail. The court granted the plea on 20.02.2023 resulting in Interim bail.

  • The petitioner argues that each supplementary chargesheet is a strategic move to prevent her husband's release and challenge the continuity of his custody.


PETITIONER'S ARGUMENTS

  1. The supplementary chargesheet indicates, in writing, that the investigation is still pending.

  2. Asserts that considering this, the trial court erred in issuing process and remanding the petitioner's husband under Section 309 Cr. P.C.

  3. Continued custody without completing the investigation infringes the accused's fundamental rights. Also, argues that the CrPC doesn't authorize prolonged remand beyond 60 days during ongoing investigations, referencing M. Ravindran v. The Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.


RESPONDENT'S ARGUMENTS

  1. Petitioner should have approached the High Court or filed an Article 136 Special Leave Petition against the Magistrate's denial of default bail.

  2. The accused not being named in the FIR is not significant as the FIR is an incomplete document, initiating the criminal procedure.

  3. Cites State of Bihar v. J.A.C Saldanha to support this standpoint.

  4. The supplementary chargesheet (25.06.2022) is deemed a comprehensive document for the alleged offense, negating the right to default bail for the petitioner's husband.


ISSUES RAISED

  1. If it is feasible to submit a chargesheet or prosecution complaint in segments without concluding the investigation of the case.

  2. Furthermore, should such a chargesheet be filed prior to the completion of the investigation, the accused may retain the right to seek default bail.

  3. Whether the trial court is allowed to extend the remand of an accused during the investigation period, even if it surpasses the time limit stipulated by the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

  • Preliminary objection- The respondent raised a preliminary objection stating that the writ petition was not maintainable at such an early stage. They argued that the accused should have first approached the High Court or filed a Special Leave Petition. However, the court dismissed this objection and asserted that Article 32 guarantees the right to approach the Supreme Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights.


DECISION

The court's analysis in this case focused on the right to default bail, which is outlined in Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and is constitutionally protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The case revealed problematic practices by both the investigative agency and the trial court, particularly in relation to incomplete chargesheets and the extension of the accused's remand beyond the stipulated period.

The court strongly denounced the practice of filing chargesheets or supplementary chargesheets without completing the investigation. It argued that this was a strategic move to circumvent the right to default bail, which is not only legally unsound but also a direct violation of the accused's fundamental rights under the Constitution. The court emphasized the need to limit any arbitrary use of state power, especially in cases involving the arrest and remand of individuals.

The crux of the court's decision was its clear statement that the denial of default bail and the extension of remand based on incomplete chargesheets, due to ongoing investigations, amounted to a violation of the accused person's fundamental rights. This declaration was not just a legal remedy, but also a way of safeguarding individual rights against overreach by law enforcement agencies during the investigative process.

In response to these legal violations, the court took decisive action. It granted absolute interim bail to the accused, allowing for their immediate release from custody, and resolved the writ petition before it. This dual remedy emphasized the court's commitment to rectifying the injustices committed against the accused and sending a clear message about the inviolability of individual rights within the legal framework.

The court's decision in this case is a monumental pronouncement, highlighting the balance between state power and individual liberties. This ruling is a guiding light in the legal arena, indicating that justice must be pursued while upholding the fundamental rights and dignities of those involved in legal proceedings. It is not a mere legal procedure, but a strong defense of constitutional principles, ensuring that the legal system remains impartial, fair, and respectful of the rights assured in the Constitution of India.


CONCLUSION

The court's decision in this case emphasized the importance of protecting the right to default bail. This right is a fundamental right stated in Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. However, in this case, the investigating agency and the trial court were blamed for not respecting this right. They were accused of submitting incomplete chargesheets and keeping the accused in custody for a longer period than allowed. 

The court criticized the practice of filing chargesheets too early to avoid granting default bail. This kind of behavior goes against the principles of fairness and cannot be tolerated. The court reminded everyone of the need to control the power of the state, especially when it comes to arrests and keeping people in custody. By not granting default bail and keeping the accused in custody based on incomplete chargesheets, the fundamental rights of the accused were being violated. 

As a result, the court granted absolute interim bail to the accused and closed the writ petition. This decision is essential in protecting the rights of individuals during investigations. It sends a message about the importance of maintaining a fair balance of power and preventing unfair actions by law enforcement agencies. Justice isn't just about punishing someone; it's equally about ensuring that everyone gets a fair chance. 

This case sets a standard for how legal processes should follow the rules laid out in the law and the Constitution. The court acts as a guardian, making sure that investigative bodies do not overstep their bounds. Essentially, it emphasizes that justice is not just about punishment; it's equally about safeguarding the rights of those accused of a crime. This case analysis shows that the court is committed to fairness, impartiality, and upholding the values laid out in the constitution in the legal realm.


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