"Having noted that the petitioner's right to speedy trial has been infringed, I cannot wring my hands in despair," observed the Madras High Court recently while directing the Narcotics Control Bureau (prosecution) to pay a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the Petitioner-accused.
While hearing the bail application of one M. Ananthan, booked under the NDPS Act for possession of prohibited quantities of contraband, a Single Bench of Justice GR Swaminathan called out the prosecution, i.e., the Narcotics Control Bureau for causing inordinate in the Petitioner's trial.
The Judge noted that the Petitioner-accused had been in judicial custody since January 2018. A Final report was filed in the matter in July 2018. Cognizance of the offences was taken in August 2018. Charges were framed in December 2018. The trial was to commence in January 2019 but, for the last two years the trial did not even take off.
The Bench further noted that on most notice dates, the prosecution witnesses were not present before the Court and even otherwise, there was nothing on record to indicate that the delay in commencement of trial was due to the actions of the Petitioner-accused. It observed,
"The accused had not filed any discharge petition. They are in no way responsible for the non-commencement of the trial. This Court had not stayed the proceedings. No quash petition was filed. There is no justification whatsoever for not commencing the trial in time. Full three years have elapsed since the date of petitioner's arrest."
Moreover, despite a direction by the High Court in November 2019 to expedite the trial and conclude the same on merits within a period of six months, no positive steps were taken by the prosecution.
In this backdrop, the Court was of the opinion that the petitioner's fundamental right to speedy trial has been violated.
"Having noted that the petitioner's right to speedy trial has been infringed, I cannot wring my hands in despair. The prosecution has to be called to account. It must pay for its lapse. I therefore direct the Narcotics Control Bureau/Prosecution to pay a sum of Rs.1.00 lakh as compensation within a period of four weeks," the Bench thus ordered.
Reliance was placed on Pankaj Kumar v. State of Maharashtra & Ors., (2008) 16 SCC 117, where the Supreme Court had held that the right to speedy trial in all criminal prosecutions is an inalienable right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Top Court had held therein that in every case, where the court comes to the conclusion that the right to speedy trial of an accused has been infringed, the charges or the conviction, as the case may be, may be quashed unless the court feels that having regard to the nature of offence and other relevant circumstances, quashing of proceedings may not be in the interest of justice.
The Top Court added that in such a situation, it is open to the court to make an appropriate order as it may deem just and equitable including fixation of time for conclusion of trial.
Drawing strength from this ruling, the Single Judge said,
"The case on hand is one under NDPS Act. It involves commercial quantity of Ganja. Therefore, it cannot be quashed. Bail also cannot be granted because Section 37 of the Act is not fulfilled. At the same time, having noted that the petitioner's right to speedy trial has been infringed, I cannot wring my hands in despair."
In addition to a direction for compensation, payable to the wife of the Petitioner-accused, the Single Judge also directed the trial court should conclude the trial within a period of three months.
[Note: The bail application of the Petitioner-accused was declined on the ground that the twin tests set out in Section 37 of the NDPS Act for grant of bail are not fulfilled in this case.]
Case Title: M. Ananthan v. State