The recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court of India underscored a critical aspect of bail jurisprudence – the duration of bail orders once granted to an accused. The case, titled MANORANJAN ROUT V. STATE OF ODISHA, revolved around an appellant charged under Sections 20(b)(ii)(C), 25, and 29 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The Orissa High Court, noting the prolonged incarceration of the appellant with no immediate prospect of concluding the trial, found him eligible for bail. However, the High Court only granted interim bail for a period of 45 days, thereafter disposing of the application.

The Supreme Court, In its verdict pronounced by Justices AbhayS Oka and Pankaj Mithal, highlighted that once a court concludes that an accused deserves bail, imposing a time-bound duration on the bail order is unconstitutional. Such limitations infringe upon the fundamental right to liberty, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Additionally, it places undue burdens on the litigant, necessitating repeated bail applications for extensions.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the practice observed in the Orissa High Court, the Supreme Court noted several instances where the High Court, despite recognizing an accused’s entitlement to bail, opted to grant interim or short-term bail orders. The apex court criticized the approach of the High Court in disposing of the bail application after granting interim bail, stating that if interim bail was to be granted, the bail application should have been kept pending.

The judgment emphasized the importance of ensuring that once a court determines an accused’s eligibility for bail, the bail application should remain pending until the final disposal. This was to avoid any undue restriction on an individual’s right to liberty and to ensure that bail orders aren’t arbitrarily time-bound when the court acknowledges an accused’s right to bail.

Section 20(b)(ii)(C): This section deals with offenses related to the production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, warehousing, use, consumption, import inter-state, export inter-state, import into India, and export from India of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Specifically, 20(b)(ii)(C) pertains to the offense of illegal possession or purchase of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances in small quantities, which would not be less than the commercial quantity.Forinstance, if an individual is found in illegal possession of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances exceeding a specified quantity, it could lead to legal action and punishment under this section of the NDPS Act. The Act distinguishes between small quantities meant for personal use and commercial quantities associated with trafficking or illegal trade.

Section 25: This section of the NDPS Act relates to the punishment for contravention in relation to manufactured drugs and preparations. It primarily deals with offenses concerning the production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, warehousing, use, consumption, import inter-state, export inter-state, import into India, and export from India of manufactured drugs or preparations containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.Under Section 25, the law prescribes certain punishments for contraventions involving manufactured drugs or preparations. The severity of punishment may vary based on the gravity of the offense committed.Section 29: This section deals with the abetment and criminal conspiracy in relation to offenses under the NDPS Act. It covers situations where individuals are involved in abetting or conspiring to commit offenses detailed within the NDPS Act.

Section 29 of the NDPS Act considers individuals who aid, abet, or conspire in committing offenses related to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances equally culpable and subject to legal consequences, even if they haven’t directly committed the primary offense themselves.

This decision resonates with Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, safeguarding the right to life and personal liberty, including the right to be released on bail, unless there are valid reasons for the accused’s detention. The verdict also builds upon established judicial precedents, emphasizing that any constraints or limitations on the duration of a bail order, after a court determines the accused’s entitlement to bail, would violate constitutional rights and create unnecessary legal complexities for the litigants.

In light of these observations, the Supreme Court modified the High Court’s order and directed that the appellant be granted bail until the final disposal of the case. This ruling sets a significant precedent in the criminal justice system by emphasizing that bail orders should not be arbitrarily restricted in duration once the court acknowledges an accused’s eligibility for bail.

The case underscores the delicate balance between safeguarding an individual’s liberty and ensuring compliance with the legal framework concerning the grant of bail. It stresses that once a court determines an accused’s entitlement to bail, the order should not be subject to limitations or time constraints, preserving the fundamental rights of the accused and maintaining fairness in the legal process.

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