The Delhi High Court observed that prisons were primarily for punishing convicts and not to detain undertrials to send out a message to the public. It made the observation while granting bail to an accused in the violence that rocked parts of North East Delhi in February, PTI reported on Monday.

“The remit of the court is to dispense justice in accordance with law, not to send messages to society,” said Justice Anup J Bhambhani.

Firoz Khan, a truck driver from Old Mustafabad in Delhi, is accused of being part of a mob of around 300 people that allegedly torched a confectionery shop. While granting bail, the court asked Khan to furnish a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two sureties of the same amount from his kin. He has been asked not to leave the national Capital without the court’s permission.

Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The violence was the worst in Delhi since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

In its May 29 order, the High Court rejected the argument of the police that granting bail to Khan at this early stage may send an adverse message in the society. “It is this sentiment, whereby the state demands that undertrials be kept in prison inordinately without any purpose, that leads to overcrowding of jails, and leaves undertrials with the inevitable impression that they are being punished even before trial and therefore being treated unfairly by the system,” the order read.

According to Khan’s plea, he was taken into custody on April 3 for alleged offences of rioting and mischief by fire or explosive substance. In the FIR filed on February 24, the complainant said some rioters set his shop on fire and looted lakhs of rupees.

Khan, however, sought bail on the grounds that he was neither named in the FIR nor was there any evidence that identified him as the perpetrator of the offences mentioned in the FIR. Khan’s lawyer Rebecca John also pointed out that the supplementary statement of the complainant did not identify Khan.

The court said it found it difficult to ascertain how the police identified Khan from an assembly of 250-300 people. “In this peculiar circumstance, this court was compelled to sift the evidence only prima-facie and limited to cursorily assessing how the police have identified the applicant from that large assembly of persons,” read the order. “This court is conscious that judicial custody is the custody of the court; and the court will be loathe to depriving a person of his liberty, in the court’s name, on the mere ipse-dixit of the State, when it finds no substantial basis or reason for doing so.”

Last week, a Delhi court castigated the police for its investigation into the violence. “The investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end,” the court had said.

The Delhi Police had made more than 800 arrests by April 13 in connection with the North East Delhi violence, according to The Indian Express. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. Most booked for their involvement in the riots are Muslims, students or women. examined a few cases closely to find a troubling pattern: often victims of the violence were being prosecuted by the police. Many lawyers and activists say the lockdown to contain the coronavirus spread has reduced scrutiny of the police investigation and impaired access to justice for those arrested.

Also read:

  1. ‘Got your azaadi?’: Investigation into Delhi violence sparks concerns about bias against Muslims
  2. In Delhi violence investigation, a disturbing pattern: Victims end up being prosecuted by police