On May 17, 2022, the Supreme Court granted bail to Indrani Mukerjea in the Sheena Bora murder case, where it has been alleged that the victim, the daughter of the accused, was killed by her, due to which she was arrested. However, the accused has been granted bail on account of the fact that she has been under custody for 6.5 years, and the trial does not seem to end soon. The Apex Court has stated that the conditions imposed while granting bail to co-accused husband Peter Mukerjea would also have to be followed by the accused.
Sheena Bora was kidnapped and murdered in April 2012, according to the Mumbai Police Department. Ms. Indrani's driver, who was caught in another case, admitted to killing Bora and told Mumbai cops that her mother, Ms. Indrani, was also involved. In 2015, the CBI took up the probe. Her spouse, Mr. Peter Mukerjea, was also detained and granted bail by a Special Court in March 2020.
Ms. Mukerjea, who is presently lodged in Byculla jail, Mumbai, wrote a letter to the CBI in December, 2021, stating that she would move the Special Court to record the statement of an inmate who had claimed to have met Bora in Kashmir.
PAST PLEAS FOR BAIL
The Special Court dismissed Ms. Mukerjea's initial bail application on medical grounds in 2016. In September 2017, her second request was denied by the Special Court, which stated that she would be safer inside the jail. The Special Court denied her third appeal in November 2018, claiming that if she was released, she would interfere with evidence and witnesses. Her bail was again denied on August 6, 2020, on the grounds that she may influence witnesses since she is a powerful person.
On November 16, 2121, the Bombay High Court rejected her bail plea. The High Court stated that material in the form of circumstantial evidence strongly supported her direct involvement in the murder. On consideration of her plea on medical grounds, it was opined that the prosecution had taken enough precaution and had provided the best medical facilities for her. Observing that delay in trial cannot be a ground for release, the High Court stated:
"Even if the trial has begun, it is likely to take some time and cannot be a ground for release in the present case, particularly given the nature of the offence alleged to have been committed by Mukerjea, which requires the defence to examine such a large number of witnesses to prove the accused's guilt." Even so, the trial was delayed due to a pandemic that lasted more than a year, which cannot be blamed on the prosecution."
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the petitioner. Apart from the period of incarceration, Mr. Rohatgi emphasised the fact that out of 237 prosecution witnesses, only 68 have been examined till date. He argued that the investigating officer in the matter was on leave from 07.06.2021 to 04.05.2022. It was his apprehension that given the large volume of witnesses and the pace at which witnesses were being examined, the trial would not be completed anytime soon. Reliance was placed upon earlier judgements of the Apex Court wherein accused persons undergoing long periods of custody in jail have been enlarged on bail.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Central Bureau of Investigation, opposed the bail plea. Mr. Raju opposed the bail application, stating that the evidence of the eye-witness, who is an accused turned approver, evidently indicates Indrani's involvement in the crime. He further submitted that the CDRs also suggest the same. On instructions, he submitted that 50% of the witnesses would be given up and the trial would be completed at the earliest. The Bench was impelled not to grant bail considering the fact that the evidence of Rahul Mukerjea, who is a crucial witness in the matter, was scheduled to be recorded on 27.05.2022 and if released on bail, there is an apprehension that Indrani would influence him.
THE BENCH OF SUPREME COURT
The judgement was issued in a special leave petition brought by Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, and AS Bopanna in response to a Bombay High Court order dismissing her bail application in November 2021. The bench emphasised that Indrani has been imprisoned for 6.5 years and that the trial is unlikely to be completed anytime soon, even if the prosecution gives up 50% of the witnesses.
NOTICE TO THE BENCH
The bench was also told that the co-accused in the case, Peter Mukerjea, the husband of Indrani Mukerjea, was granted bail earlier. She is charged with murdering her own daughter, through her earlier husband, after conspiring with her then husband. The allegation against her is that she murdered her daughter, Sheena Bora, in view of her live-in relationship with Rahul Mukerjea, who is the son of Peter Mukerjea through an earlier wife.