IPS Officer Arrested for Disclosing Information Under RTI Act Is Now Free – Thanks to Default Bail

The prosecution failed to file a chargesheet within the required 60-day period since N. Rajamarthandan's arrest for disclosing information on an attack on the All Assam Students Union office.

New Delhi: N. Rajamarthandan, the 2008-batch IPS officer who was arrested for disclosing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act relating to the probe over the attack on the office of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) in March, was released on “default bail” on June 12. Therefore, his appeal in the Supreme Court against the Gauhati high court’s denial of bail to him has now become infructuous.

The Wire had earlier reported that the AASU office was allegedly attacked in March by the Nikhil Bharat Udbastu Samannay Samiti, a group that supports granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis by amending the Citizenship Act.

Rajamarthandan, who was the supervisory officer of the special investigation team probing the attack, was arrested for disclosing to an RTI applicant allegedly confidential information relating to the ongoing investigation.

Rajamarthandan being granted default bail shows that the Assam government has failed to obtain evidence against him within the statutory period of 60 days from his arrest.

Bail under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is popularly referred to as “default bail.” It is called so because the accused is entitled to be released on bail on account of a default on the part of the prosecution to file a chargesheet after the completion of investigation under Section 173(2) CrPC within the prescribed period of 60 or 90 days.

The 90-day limit applies in cases where the investigation relates to an offence punishable by death, imprisonment for life or for a term not less than ten years, while the 60-day limit applies to investigation relating to any other offence. The period of 60 or 90 days commences from the date on which the accused is remanded rather than from the date of the arrest.

Since Rajamarthandan has been in jail custody since April 7 in connection with alleged offences under Section 120B and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 98(a) of the Assam Police Act, 2007 and Section 5(1)(b) of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 – none of which could result in a punishment of death or ten-year imprisonment – he was eligible for release on bail on June 12.

On June 19, when the case came up for hearing before the Supreme Court’s vacation bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Rajamarthandan’s counsel, Nitya Ramakrishnan, told the bench that his special leave petition did not survive following his release on default bail. The petition was thus dismissed as having become infructuous.

The Supreme Court’s record of proceedings on June 19 for this case was uploaded on Wednesday, June 21.

Legally, even if the prosecution now seeks an extension of time for filing a chargesheet, or does indeed file a chargesheet after the expiry of 60 days from Rajamarthandan’s jail custody on April 7, it will not dilute his entitlement to the default bail, as held by the Supreme Court in Union of India through CBI v Nirala Yadav @ Raja Ram Yadav @ Deepak Yadav on June 30, 2014.

The apex court had held in that case that “A court cannot act to extinguish the right of an accused if the law so confers on him. Law has to prevail. The prosecution cannot avail such subterfuges to frustrate or destroy the legal right of the accused.”

Rajamarthandan can, therefore, fight the case registered against him legally without losing his freedom.