Article 21 is soul of Constitution, liberty of citizens is paramount: SC

SC bench makes the observation after noting that Bombay HC granted bail to a murder accused only after a nudge from the SC

Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)


The Supreme Court has said Article 21 is the "soul of the Constitution" as the liberty of a citizen is of paramount importance, and a high court not expeditiously adjudicating matters related to the article would deprive a person of this precious right.

A bench of justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta made the observation after noting that the Bombay High Court had granted bail to one Amol Vithal Vahile, a prime accused in the murder of a corporator in Maharashtra, after a nudge from the apex court on 29 January.

The bench, in a recent order, said it is thus clear that before the order was passed by this court on 29 January 2024, the high court, instead of deciding the application for bail on merit, had shunted it on one or other ground.

"Needless to state that Article 21 of the Constitution of India is the soul of the Constitution as the liberty of a citizen is of paramount importance. Not deciding the matter pertaining to the liberty of a citizen expeditiously and shunting away the matter on one or the other ground would deprive the party of their precious right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India," it said.

The bench said it has come across various matters from the Bombay High Court where bail and anticipatory bail applications were not being decided expeditiously. Referring to one such case, the bench said the application for anticipatory bail was not decided for more than four years.

"We have also come across numerous matters wherein the judges are not deciding the matter on merit but find an excuse to shunt the case on different grounds. We, therefore, request the chief justice of the High Court of Bombay to convey our request to all judges exercising criminal jurisdiction to decide the matter pertaining to bail/anticipatory bail as expeditiously as possible," the bench said.

It asked the registrar (judicial) of the apex court to communicate this order to the registrar (Judicial) of the high court, who shall place the same before the chief justice of Bombay High Court.

On 29 January, the bench noted that on 30 March 2023, the high court had asked Vahile to approach the trial court for regular bail even though it had noted that he had been languishing in jail for more than seven years.

The top court had said, "When the petitioner applied for bail on merits and also on the ground that he had been incarcerated in jail for seven and a half years, the approach of the high court in only permitting him to file an application for bail before the trial court/sessions court and not deciding the prayer for bail on merits, in our view, would amount to non-exercise of jurisdiction vested in it."

The bench had said Vahile had been languishing in prison for seven-and-a-half years at the time on which the order was passed by the single judge, and by now has been in custody for more than eight years. Rather than asking the petitioner to go through another round of litigation, the high court ought to have decided the matter on merit, it had said.

The top court had said the approach of the high court was not in accordance with the sanctity granted to personal liberty in the catena of judgments. It had then asked the high court to decide Vahile's bail afresh in view of the fact that he had served around eight years in jail.

Vahile is a prime accused in the murder of Avinash Tekawade, a corporator of Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra. Police had claimed that Vahile harboured a grudge against Tekawade born out of professional rivalry, and committed the murder along with others on 3 Septembe, 2015. He was arrested on 4 September.

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