A Tamil Nadu sessions judge, in an innovative order granting anticipatory bail to an accused, asked him to remove 100 Seemai Karuvelam trees in his village.
The accused in the case was charged under various sections of the IPC for allegedly making sexual remarks, uttering obscene words and causing hurt. He applied for anticipatory bail contending that it was a false case and on the grounds of the injured person already having been discharged from the hospital.
Apart from asking him to execute a bail bond of Rs 10,000 to the magistrate in case of arrest, the accused was also asked to “remove 100 seemai karuvel trees within 20 days in his Marungur village”. He would also have to obtain a certificate from the village administrative officer and present it to the court on the 21st day from the date of his release on bail.
The court said that in case there were no Seemai Karuvelam trees in Marungur, he would have to remove a hundred trees from the neighbouring village and submit photographic evidence for the same. “It is also made clear that the petitioner shall not make any namesake removal of small-sized seemai karuvel trees and instead they shall be of large size, which are occupying considerable area,” the court order added.
The Sessions Court, as per the order, imposed this condition for anticipatory bail given the “the gravity of the offence and the need of care for the society and to protect the environment.”
Seemai Karuvelam trees are a problematic species of flora which apparently do not allow other species to coexist with them and also absorb a lot of moisture – so much so that it can lead to depletion of groundwater. The trees are also known to poison groundwater and give out more carbon dioxide than oxygen.
Earlier in 2015, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court had directed the state government to completely eradicate the species from Tamil Nadu.
As the drought situation worsens in Tamil Nadu, the judge perhaps saw this as an opportunity work on cutting down on the number of trees in one village.
But is this the first time that a court has granted bail with a community service condition? Certainly not.
In 2003, Justice M Karpagavinayagam directed B Ranganathan, a Congress MLA at the time, to stay in Madurai for five days and read Gandhian literature at the Gandhi Museum library. The condition came with the grant for an anticipatory bail in a case of criminal intimidation, according to a report in The Hindu.
The condition was included to make Ranganathan “realise his duties as an MLA”.
Sudha Ramalingam, senior advocate at Madras High Court says that this practice is problematic: “Subscribing this form of manual labour (as was directed in the Ariyalur order) as a bail condition is not proper. What if the person is proven not guilty? If given as an alternate punishment, as a part of a conviction, it is fine, but not here,” she argues.
She also points out that there is no law governing such instruction, which means there is no uniformity in the way in which these conditions are imposed on the accused. “Judges should refrain from getting moralistic while pronouncing orders,” she says.
However, Dr V Suresh, an advocate and National General Secretary for People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) says that it is an “innovative” albeit discretionary practice. In his own experience, he has seen a few cases where judges have directed the persons concerned to teach children in an orphanage or teach at a night school as a condition for granting bail or anticipatory bail.
“In one particular case in 2009 or 2010, the persons grew so fond of the children at the orphanage that they supported them for the next 2-3 years,” says Dr Suresh. “It’s not that the judges deem the accused guilty and then impose these conditions as some form of punishment. It is a discretionary exercise, so it depends on the judge and his/her perception about the allegations and the accused,” he adds.
He also points out that people on whom these conditions are imposed do not have to comply with them if they do not want to. “They can always go to a higher court and appeal against its imposition,” he says.