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Bail ordered 19 months ago, but murder convict freed only now after another SC intervention

The apex court has sought an explanation from the Nellore prison and the trial court that refused to entertain bail plea of man convicted of dowry harassment-cum-murder of wife.

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New Delhi: An Andhra Pradesh resident convicted in a dowry harassment-cum-murder case, who was granted bail by the Supreme Court (SC) in September 2020, finally walked out of prison last week, after the apex court intervened. 

Despite the SC’s 2020 order, for more than a year and a half, the man, identified as Gopisetty Harikrishna, was not given a hearing by the trial court in order to fix conditions for his release on bail.

The SC has sought an explanation regarding the delay from the jail superintendent of the Nellore prison, where Harikrishna served his sentence, and the trial court that refused to entertain his bail petition. 

It has also given the Andhra government 10 days to answer as to what kind of departmental action can be initiated against the erring jail officials.

The SC gave its September 2020 bail order while hearing Harikrishna’s appeal against a 2019 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which upheld the conviction and life imprisonment pronounced by the trial court in 2015. 

Harikrishna, accused of killing his wife in May 2011, had spent nine years in jail when he got bail. 

Since September 2020, Harikrishna’s matter has been listed in the apex court five times, but not heard. It was only on 13 April this year that the court agreed to take up his matter on priority. He was released on 20 April.

The SC will now take up the matter again on 9 May.


Also Read: SC ‘amazed’ with Allahabad HC order in murder case, acquits 3 death row convicts


Interim bail in 2020 after 9 years in prison

The SC bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit Monday sought an explanation as to why the court’s 29 September 2020 order granting bail to Harikrishna was not complied with.

The court noted that a bench — also headed by Justice Lalit — had ordered interim bail in favour of Harikrishna when it was told that he had already spent nine years in jail. That order had also included a direction to the superintendent of the Nellore jail to produce him before the trial court within three days so the latter could issue formal orders and stipulate bail conditions.

Noting that the Nellore jail received the bail order only on 6 October 2020, the latest SC bench — which also included Justices S.R. Bhat and P.S. Narasimha — Monday called for a report from the court registry, which has been told to clarify how it communicated the 2020 bail order, and whether it was electronically transmitted.

It also sought an explanation from the Nellore jail superintendent on why Harikrishna was not produced — in accordance with the top court’s directive — before the trial court. 

‘Are you suggesting nobody should’ve got released during Covid?’ 

The Andhra Pradesh government counsel placed a brief report before the court, containing the sequence of events that followed the court order. The report said that a legal aid lawyer in Nellore had moved a bail application on 29 October 2020 for Harikrishna, after he learnt about bail being granted to him during one of his visits to the jail amid the pandemic.

He was told by the prison authorities that Harikrishna could not be produced in court due to Covid restrictions, it further said.

Upon perusal of this report, the SC, on 20 April, ordered Harikrishna’s immediate release. 

When Andhra government counsel Mahfooz Ahsan Nazki attributed the delay in the inmate’s release to Covid, Justice Lalit retorted: “Are you suggesting nobody should have got released during Covid? In fact, at that time, we gave bail to several undertrials/inmates (to decongest jails). Whatever the modality (may have been), the man should have been set free as and when the (SC) order was passed.”

The bench also took strong exception to the Nellore trial court’s refusal to entertain Harikrishna’s bail petition, filed on 29 October 2020. It has sought to know from the judge why he did not hear the petition until the top court intervened on 20 April 2022. 

‘No delay on our part’, says convict’s lawyer

Harikrishna’s appeal was filed by the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) because he could not afford a lawyer in the top court. The bench also issued notice to the state on his appeal challenging his conviction.

On 20 April, Harikrishna’s lawyer, senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavami, informed the bench that her briefing counsel, who prepared and filed the appeal in the apex court, had informed the SC registry about the bail order the same day it was pronounced. There was no delay on her team’s part in apprising the appropriate departments about the court order, she submitted.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


Also Read: Parole, furlough, remission: All give relief to convicts, but this is how they’re different


 

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