The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by Christian Michel James, an alleged middleman arrested in connection with the AgustaWestland chopper scam, seeking interim bail on the grounds that being in Tihar Jail amid the coronavirus pandemic posed a health risk, PTI reported.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai, who conducted the hearing through video conferencing, said the petitioner cannot be granted bail as per the criteria fixed by a high-powered committee constituted by the Centre. The judges upheld the Delhi High Court’s decision to reject James’ bail plea, terming his apprehension that he may contract Covid-19 while in jail as “unfounded”.
James had claimed that the coronavirus pandemic posed a grave risk to him considering his age. Advocate Aljo K Joseph, appearing for him, highlighted the overcrowding in prisons and said it can be detrimental to his health.
Last month, authorities at the Tihar Jail had released over 400 prisoners. This was done after the Delhi government amended prison rules to provide convicts the options of getting special parole and furlough to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections in crowded prisons. The amended prison rules provide for 60-day parole in case of unprecedented situations like an epidemic or a natural disaster or any other situation which mandates reducing of the population of the inmates.
The alleged middleman, who was extradited from Dubai, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on December 22, 2018. On January 5, James was sent to judicial custody in the case filed by the Enforcement Directorate and has also been in custody for another case by the CBI in connection with the chopper scam.
Under the United Progressive Alliance government, a Rs 3,565-crore helicopter deal was signed in 2010 with the British-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The agreement was put on hold after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company, on charges of paying bribes to win the contract.