SC grants interim bail to Kejriwal till June 1; bars him from visiting CMO or signing any official files

SC grants interim bail to Kejriwal till June 1; bars him from visiting CMO or signing any official files

A Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said Mr. Kejriwal, arrested in a money laundering case linked to the alleged excise policy scam, will have to surrender and go back to jail on June 2

Updated - May 24, 2024 01:45 pm IST

Published - May 10, 2024 02:41 pm IST - New Delhi

The Supreme Court on May 10 granted interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the liquor policy case till June 1, 2024 to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.

Also read | Arvind Kejriwal hearing LIVE updates

“There is no gain saying that General Elections to Lok Sabha is the most significant and an important event this year, as it should be in a national election year. Between 650-700 million voters out of an electorate of about 970 million will cast their votes to elect the government of this country for the next five years. General Elections supply the vis viva to a democracy,” a Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta observed in its order.

AAP workers celebrates after Delhi Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s got interim bail till June 1, 2024, the party’s headquarters in New Delhi on May 10, 2024.

AAP workers celebrates after Delhi Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s got interim bail till June 1, 2024, the party’s headquarters in New Delhi on May 10, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The court barred Mr. Kejriwal from visiting the Chief Minister’s office or the Delhi Secretariat. He would not sign any official files unless it was required and necessary for obtaining clearance or approval of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.

The order prohibited him from making any comments with regard to his role in the liquor policy case. He would not interact with witnesses or have access to official files connected with the case. He should furnish bail bonds for ₹50,000 with one surety to the satisfaction of the Jail Superintendent. Mr. Kejriwal has to surrender on June 2.

The court made it clear that the grant of bail was not a comment on the merits of the case or on the pending appeal filed by Mr. Kejriwal against his arrest on March 21. On May 7, a trial court had remanded him to judicial custody till May 20.

The eight-page order rejected an argument by the prosecution agency, Directorate of Enforcement (ED), that releasing Mr. Kejriwal on interim bail to canvas votes would create an impression among the public, worse still, a judicial precedent, that politicians were a separate class, higher in status than the ordinary citizen and immune from arrest.

Every criminal would vie to be a politician, the ED had rued.

During the short pronouncement of the order which lasted a little over four minutes after the lunch break, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Central agency, said the ball has already started rolling with Amritpal Singh, who is detained under the National Security Act over Khalistani activities, approaching court for bail to contest in the elections.

“That is a different concern,” Justice Khanna said. “It is the concern of the nation,” Mr. Mehta replied.

“We cannot compare that with this case… Let us not put it in such simple straitjacket terms like that,” Justice Khanna said.

In its order, the Bench reasoned that interim bail was granted on the facts of each individual case.

In Mr. Kejriwal’s case, to ignore the “prodigious importance” of the Lok Sabha polls would be “iniquitous and wrong”. It highlighted elections as the “barometer and lifeline of the parliamentary system and its setup”.

The two-judge Bench agreed with the ED that Mr. Kejriwal avoided nine summons was a “negative factor”, but there were still other facets which had to be considered.

“Arvind Kejriwal is the Chief Minister of Delhi and a leader of one of the national parties. No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but he has not been convicted. He does not have any criminal antecedents. He is not a threat to society,” the court listed points in favour of Mr. Kejriwal.

The court said ED had filed the Enforcement Case Information Report in August 2022. The case had been pending since then, but Mr. Kejriwal was arrested only on March 21, a few days after the Model Code of Conduct came into force. Justice Khanna said 22 days of liberty for Mr. Kejriwal to campaign for Aam Aadmi Party would “not make a difference now”.

The order dismissed ED’s logic that if a politician could get interim bail to campaign, then a farmer or a company director was entitled to the same relief to attend his crops or a board meeting, respectively. All vocations were equal in stature, the ED had argued.

However, the court said granting a political leader interim bail to campaign for the General Elections cannot be compared to either a farmer seeking bail to tend to his harvest or a businessman wanting to attend a board meeting.

Besides, Mr. Kejriwal’s petition challenging the legality and validity of his arrest on March 21 was itself pending in the court. “Once the matter is sub judice and the questions relating to legality of arrest are under consideration, a more holistic and libertarian view is justified in the background that the 18th Lok Sabha General Elections are being held,” the Bench noted.

The court said it intended to wrap up arguments on Mr. Kejriwal’s plea to quash his arrest in the case next week and pronounce a judgment shortly.

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