In a relief to the priest arrested following the death of seven pilgrims in a stampede outside a Tamil Nadu temple, the Supreme Court Tuesday waived the condition of paying Rs 70 lakh for grant of bail to him.
The chief priest of the temple in Tiruchirappalli had moved the top court against the order of the Madras High Court which had imposed a bail condition on him that he would pay Rs 10 lakh each by bank drafts in the name of one family member of each of the seven victims.
On April 21, seven pilgrims were killed and 10 injured in a stampede outside the temple on the occasion of the ''Chitra Pournami'' festival.
A vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi was told that the state government and the Centre have already paid a compensation of Rs one lakh and Rs two lakh respectively to "the victims".
"Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case and the allegations in the FIR, we deem it appropriate to waive the condition of payment to the family members/legal heirs of the deceased victims for the purpose of grant of bail," the bench said.
"The concerned Judicial Magistrate may grant bail on conditions as he may deem fit to his satisfaction. We order accordingly," the court said.
The bench said the high court cannot be faulted in the case as it was clear from the order that the lawyer appearing for the priest had offered to pay Rs 10 lakh to the family members or legal heirs of each of the victims.
"In this court it is submitted that the petitioner, who was rendering devotional services in a relatively small Temple at Tiruchirapalli, with little income does not have the requisite funds," the bench noted in its order.
"If the petitioner lacks funds, undertaking ought not to have been given to the court. Be that as it may, it is well settled that bail cannot be made conditional upon heavy deposits beyond the financial capacity of an applicant for bail," it said.
The bench said the priest was not even named in the FIR and as per averments made in the FIR, it "does not appear that the petitioner was responsible for the death."
"There appears to have been suffocation due to congestion and rush. Even otherwise, it does not appear incarceration of the petitioner is necessary for investigation or that the petitioner will evade the process of law or tamper with evidence if set at liberty," the bench said.
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