New Delhi: Undertrials accused of crimes carrying a punishment of seven years in jail should be released on bail if have spent one-third of that time, or two-and-half years, behind bars facing trial, the Law Commission will recommend to the government.
As part of sweeping changes to make bail easy, the law panel will recommend tweaking Section 436 A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) so that those who are accused of crimes which attract a term of over seven years be released on bail if they have spent half of the term behind bars while facing trial.
According to a senior official who is part of the panel, the Commission will also recommend that undertrials who cannot produce a non-monetary surety -- an undertaking by an individual that the undertrial will appear before authorities when required -- be allowed to instead deposit government identity documents such as Aadhar, voter I card or PAN card to get bail.
"But what happens if a person fails to turn up even after depositing the identity document? We are still working on it," the official said.
The new provision, he said, would help those who find it difficult to get a person stand surety for them in an alien city.
As of now, Section 436 A of the CrPC deals with the maximum period for which an undertrial prisoner can be detained.
As per law, if a person is accused of a crime which is not an offence where the punishment is death, he should be released on bail if he has been in jail for half the period "extending up to one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence under that law". There are no separate cut-offs as is being recommended by the law panel now.
But the reality is that two-thirds of prison inmates in India are undertrials, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has said.
In 2016, the government had asked the Law Commission to recommend a new Bail Act. Earlier this year, it revised its plan saying there was no need for a stand-alone law. The law panel should only recommend changes in the CrPC to make getting bail easy and uniform.
In September last year, then Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda had asked then Law Secretary P K Malhotra to ask the Law Commission to recommend a standalone Bail Act to quell the perception that the existing system is "inextricably linked to the financial well-being of the accused".
Gowda had suggested the need for examining the desirability of having a separate Bail Act under a "major revamp" of the bail system.
The minister had said bail should be granted as a matter of right and be denied only when there is fear that the accused can tamper with the evidence, influence witnesses or commit more crimes while out of jail.
"... The matter has been re-examined by the central government and it has been decided that there may be no need for a stand alone Bail Act," the ministry later told the Commission.
The Law Ministry communication noted that the desired objective can be achieved "by bringing necessary changes in the existing provisions of the CrPC".