The Manipur High Court on Thursday issued an order to release a village chief who was arrested under NDPS Act on default bail by furnishing bail bonds of Rs 1,00,000 with sureties of like amount (government employee) each to the satisfaction of the Special Judge (NDPS), Ukhrul.
Mangneikam Haokip, 45, son of Tongkhojamg Haokip (village chief) of Lanchah village, Chassad, Kamjong district was arrested on February 6, 2023 in connection with two FIRs against him under section 18 (b) and 18/46 of ND and PS Act by Chassad police for poppy cultivation.
A police report stated that the poppy cultivated area is within Lanchah village and as per the customary law, the accused who is the chief of Lanchah village is the sole owner of the poppy cultivated land.
However, the village chief’s bail application stated that there is no material against him. It stated that he was not the chief of the village used for poppy cultivation during the life-time of his father, who is a recognised chief and nothing was seized or recovered from the possession of him.
The state respondent filed objections to the bail applications, stating that the village chief took charge of chief from his father in the year 2008 when his father suffered BP stroke and as per Kuki customary law, no one can do cultivation in the land without permission from the village chief who is the sole owner of the village land.
It also stated that there are sufficient materials against him for his involvement in the offences under the two FIRs.
During the hearing, counsel of the village chief submitted that the village chief was arrested on February 6, 2023 in connection with the FIRs. However, neither chargesheets nor applications for extension of time were submitted to complete the investigation beyond the 180 days stipulated under Section 167 CrPC, and hence the village chief was entitled to be released on default bail.
Public prosecutor submitted that the prosecution filed two applications for extension of time to complete investigation beyond statutory period under Section 36A ND&PS Act. It was further submitted that the chargesheet was also filed in connection with FIR of 2022, on October 19, 2023.
However, counsel of the village chief clarified that the present bail applications have been filed under the provisions of Section 439 CrPC as regular bail. And, the statutory period as stipulated under Section 167 CrPC has already expired on August 9, 2023 and August 23, 2023 in both the FIRs from the date of judicial custody.
Since chargesheets and/or applications for extension of time for completing investigation beyond the statutory period have not been filed, counsel informed the High Court about the fact and prayed for releasing the village chief on default bail.
The HC discussed the relevant case laws with respect to entitlement to default bail on failure to submit charge sheet within the statutory mandate vis-à-vis application for extension of time to complete investigation.
The HC from discussion of the various case laws stated that the accused has an indefeasible right to default bail, when the prosecution fails to file chargesheet within the stipulated time and/or fails to file an application for extension of time to complete investigation.
The accused exercises such right if he files an application for releasing him on default bail, the HC observed. Such belated filing of chargesheet or application for extension of time does not extinguish the right to default bail, it stated.
The HC opined that the bail applications are allowed for default in filing chargesheet/application for extension of time, notwithstanding the fact that the petitioner has been accused of serious offences of poppy cultivation in large scale. Therefore, the HC ordered the release of the village chief from custody in both FIRs.
With the direction of release, the HC put conditions to the village chief to co-operate with the investigation; not influence to any person acquitted with the facts of this case and shall not tamper with evidence; to appear before the Investigating Officer on every 1st and 15th of every month till the filing of chargesheet and thereafter on every date fixed by Trail Court; not to leave station without the permission of the Special Court (NDPS), Ukhrul and in case of violation of any of these conditions, State may approach the High Court for appropriate order.