An undertrial and accused in the Maoist attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) camp at Sildah in West Midnapore district of West Bengal was granted bail on Wednesday by a division bench of the Calcutta High Court after spending over 12 years behind bars. As many as 24 EFR personnel were killed in the attack by the left-wing extremist cadres on February 15, 2010.
In the follow-up police action, a Maoist activist, Prasanta Patra was among the many arrested in the same year. Since then, Patra had been languishing behind bars as the trial under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) continued against him for years.
However, on Wednesday, Calcutta High Court’s division bench of Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay made a strong observation that there is little possibility of the trial concluding in the near future.
“Out of 70 witnesses, only 34 witnesses have been examined as yet. It also appears evidence against the petitioner is general and omnibus. Petitioner is suffering from psychiatric problems and had been admitted in the institute of psychiatry in the correctional home,” the division bench observed.
While granting bail to the petitioner, the division bench also pointed out that according to Section 57 of the Indian Penal Code in calculating fractions of terms of punishment, (imprisonment) for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to 20 years.
According to the bench, since in this particular case, the petitioner has already crossed half of the limit of 20 years and he is in custody for more than 12 years and since nothing is placed before the bench to show he had contributed to the delay or had played an egregious role in the crime disentitling him, there is no reason to deny his bail plea. “For the aforesaid reasons, we are persuaded to extend the privilege of bail to the petitioner,” the court added.
Speaking to IANS, counsel for the petitioners in this case, Kaushik Gupta said this verdict by the division bench is crucial not just for this particular petitioner but for all those undertrials booked under UAPA and who have spent years behind bars. “This verdict upholds their rights to be entitled for bail even before the trial is completed,” Gupta added.