Day-to-day clincher in AMRI bail
|OUR LEGAL REPORTER|
Calcutta, Feb. 17: Calcutta High Court today granted the first bail on non-health grounds in the AMRI case, making a distinction between a director not associated with day-to-day affairs at the Dhakuria unit and other board members.
A division bench of the high court gave bail to R.S. Agarwal, 67, one of the directors of AMRI Hospitals.
The court turned down the pleas of four other directors but gave them the liberty to move bail petitions after the conclusion of the investigation into the fire in which 91 people choked to death on December 9.
Agarwal is undergoing treatment at hospital since his arrest 70 days ago but the court made it clear that bail was not being granted because of his health.
“He (Agarwal) is quite stable and his health condition is not so bad for which he can get bail. But as he was not connected with the day-to-day affairs of the hospital for the last one year, the court is granting bail to him,” said Justice Asim Kumar Roy, the senior judge of the two-judge bench. The other judge is Justice Tarun Gupta.
The sole director who was granted interim bail so far was Mani Chhetri, the veteran doctor, but it was approved on the basis of the nonagenarian’s health.
The distinction between those involved with day-to-day operations and others was a factor industrial chambers, including Ficci, had been focusing on in public and private discussions with the Mamata Banerjee government.
However, the state government said it would challenge the bail order in the Supreme Court.
Sources told The Telegraph later that Agarwal had not attended any of the two board meetings held in 2011 but all the other directors, including the two government nominees who have not been arrested, were present at the sessions. But it was not clear how involved they were in taking decisions that affected daily operations.
The court touched on this issue today while rejecting the bail pleas of four other directors — R.S. Goenka, his son Manish and nephew Prashant and Ravi Todi.
The court held that the four directors were well aware of the happenings at the hospital and they could be held responsible for not adopting proper safety measures.
The division bench added that the prosecution’s fear that the directors may tamper with evidence could not be ruled out.
But the bench gave the four directors permission to move bail petitions once the investigation concludes. The bench cited an observation by the Supreme Court. “In the Sushanta Ghosh (CPM leader) case, the Supreme Court held that after the completion of investigation, the subordinate courts may grant bail to the accused persons,” said the high court division bench.
After pronouncing its order, the division bench added: “We hope that investigation against the accused will be ended soon.”
During the hearing on the bail plea of the AMRI directors earlier this week — February 14 — the prosecution had informed the bench that it would file chargesheets against all the accused within a week.
The lawyers representing the accused saw a ray of hope in today’s order. “Filing of chargesheet means that the investigations are over. As the court has said that the accused can move bail petitions on completion of investigation, it means bail for the other accused is just a matter of time,” said a lawyer.
But Kalyan Banerjee, the advocate representing the state government, said that it would move the Supreme Court challenging Agarwal’s bail.
With the court granting him bail, Agarwal can technically go home if the medical board at SSKM hospital gives the clearance, said a senior police officer.
“We have already informed the court that in his present state, Agarwal can be treated even at home. If the family members wish to get him discharged, they have to submit a formal application to the medical board along with a copy of the court order,” said Pradip Mitra, the director of the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, SSKM hospital.
Nine directors and four employees of the hospital have been arrested so far. Some of the charges against the accused include culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 304 of IPC) and violation of Section 34 of the West Bengal Fire Services Act.
Three of the arrested directors — S.K. Todi, Dayanand Agarwal and Pranab Dasgupta — and the four employees — Preeta Banerjee, Sajid Hossain, Sanjib Pal and Satyabrata Upadhyay — have moved bail prayers in the Alipore court. But they haven’t approached the high court yet.