Anticipatory bail cannot be granted on grounds of fear of death due to COVID-19, the Supreme Court said Tuesday afternoon, as it stayed an Allahabad High Court order on the subject.
Anticipatory bail must be based on the merits of each individual case, the top court stressed, adding that the High Court's order could not be used as precedent by other courts.
The top court was responding to a petition filed by the Uttar Pradesh government last week challenging an Allahabad High Court order that said anticipatory bail could be granted on grounds of apprehension of death in view of the surge in Covid cases and overcrowding in jails.
"You (the UP government) have a problem with observations made... sweeping observations (that) all persons be granted anticipatory bail... we are staying sweeping observations and further orders," Justices Vineet Saran and BR Gavai told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The debate over anticipatory bail was triggered after the High Court allowed Prateek Jain - a conman who has 130 cases registered against him - to be released on bail till January 2022.
The UP government told the Supreme Court the reasoning - apprehension of death due to Covid - had set a wrong precedent and was being quoted by other courts for grant of anticipatory bail.
Earlier this month, the High Court had said that in view of the spike in cases and excess crowds in jails, the lives of the accused, jail personnel and even police could be at risk. The court had said that in such cases, alleged criminals could be given anticipatory bail for a fixed period.
The High Court also quoted a Supreme Court order from earlier this month, in which the latter court said "...prisons in India are overburdened... requirement of decongestion is a matter concerning the health and right to life of both the prison inmates and the police personnel".
The Supreme Court bench - led by Chief Justice NV Ramana - had ordered the release of prisoners who were granted bail or parole last year. This was done keeping in mind the nature of their offences. Each prisoner's release, therefore, depended on the crime and a recommendation by a panel.
With that in mind, the Allahabad High Court said it could not shut its eyes to the fact that accused criminals could only be tried if s/he were alive, and that keeping them in jail during the pandemic only increased the chances that they could die before coming to trial.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst-affected states in the second Covid wave, with around 77,000 active cases. This morning, the state reported nearly 4,000 new cases in 24 hours.