Akhlima @Aklima Begum v. Union of India, I.A.(Civil)/1335/2021

Read the judgment here

Date of decision: 03.09.21 

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia 

Summary: The Petitioner, a declared foreigner, was granted bail by the Gauhati High Court in a previous order. In response to the risk posed by overcrowded jails in the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Court extended the bail until the disposal of the writ petition which challenged the Foreigners’ Tribunal’s order.

Facts: The Petitioner, Akhlima @Aklima Begum was declared as a “foreigner” in an order passed  by the Foreigners’ Tribunal on 24.06.20. Pursuant to this order, the Petitioner was in detention. The Petitioner filed a writ petition challenging the impugned order. In the meanwhile, the Petitioner filed an interlocutory application seeking an extension of the three-month bail granted by the Gauhati High Court vide order dated 02.06.21. The bail was granted on the sole ground that decongestion of jails and detention centres is a must during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holding: The Petitioner requested for the bail to be extended for a further period of time or till the disposal of the case in view of the overcrowded jail conditions that posed a health risk in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gauhati High Court granted the relief, stating that “considering that the present COVID-19 pandemic situation and also since the Tribunal records have also been requisitioned and the matter can be heard on a short date, the applicant can be allowed to remain on bail till disposal of the writ petition” (paragraph 7). 

Significance: This decision indicates that detenues may be released on bail on the ground of COVID-19 for a limited period of time, and the same may be extended as long as the pandemic persists. In a move forward from the previous decisions of this court in Gauhati High Court v. Union of India and Samsul Hoque v. Union of India, the bail in the instant case was granted irrespective of the number of years served in detention. This is a positive development. Similarly, the court must not insist on the two year detention period before granting bail in a case where a person’s status as a “declared foreigner” is upheld by the High Court. This would be coherent with the ground for the bail, i.e. COVID-19 which applies to all detenues and is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. 

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Arushi Gupta and Dewangi Sharma.

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