Getting Bail: Tough Luck for the Poor?

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court decision to give bail to two Maruti workers recently has put the spotlight on the law on bail as being stringent on poorer sections of society.

Sunil Kumar is the first of the 148 jailed Maruti Suzuki workers to be out of custody in the last two and a half years. While Sunil was released late in the evening of February 26, three days after the Supreme Court order, his colleague Kanwaljeet was not so fortunate. Kanwaljeet’s release had got further delayed as his family was trying to raise the amount of 25,000 rupees for his bail bond.

All 148 jailed workers have been charged with criminal conspiracy, rioting and murder.

On July 18, 2012, the Maruti Suzuki factory at Manesar, Haryana, witnessed arson and violence which claimed the life of general manager Awanish Kumar Dev. Many others were injured.

Sunil, who was 21 at the time, was working as an apprentice at the factory. The son of a fruit vendor, Sunil recalls the day he was arrested and how he and some others kept pleading they were not involved in the crime.

“No one was ready to listen to us. So, we were all in jail. We were tense, upset and had no idea what will happen to us. Our career had come to an end. Our life had stopped and we had lost all hope,” said Sunil.

Like him, many workers are appealing for a thorough probe. They say they were picked up randomly by the police, even though they were not at the spot at the time or were not Union members.

In an earlier interview, the Maruti Suzuki company chairman, R C Bhargava, had dismissed this possibility. He said,” There were 200 to 300 managers in the factory at that time, of whom 94 went to hospital. At least 700 workers were rioting, otherwise this can’t happen.”

Sunil and Kanwaljeet approached the Supreme Court after the trial court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court did not grant them bail. The workers’ long struggle to get bail, a sad commentary on the criminal justice system.

According to Rebecca Mammen John, Senior Advocate who argued their case in the Supreme Court, “This is unprecedented in my mind and shows tyranny of power where a large corporate entity can through a case like this, subvert the constitutional rights of the workers. We have to ask ourselves, is this the way we conduct the criminal trials in our country? Is this the way the police investigate? Is this the manner in which the law on bail be taken forward in India because it took us 3 years to get 2 men out and it speaks of our system. Really, because people accused of far more serious crimes are out on bail. We shouldn’t have come to the Supreme Court at all. These are matters which should have been handled by the trial court and the law on bail should not be so stringent on poorer sections of the society.”

While the current bail order is with respect to two individuals, at least 90 other workers are placed in similar circumstances. The benefit of this order is likely to apply to those persons as well.

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