Voting for relief: On interim bails and elections

Interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reverses damage to level playing field in polls

Updated - May 11, 2024 08:23 am IST

Published - May 11, 2024 12:20 am IST

In granting interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Supreme Court of India has reversed a development that upset the level playing field for the ongoing general election. When Mr. Kejriwal was arrested in March for his alleged involvement in corruption in the formulation of a liquor policy for Delhi, it might not have seemed an obvious setback to federalism and democracy. But the arrest of a serving Chief Minister and a key figure in the Opposition, when the election process was already on, sent shock waves among regional parties. And, as he remained behind bars, it stoked fears that States run by parties other than those in power at the Centre could easily be undermined by getting central agencies to arrest Chief Ministers on charges that may or may not be based on evidence. In Mr. Kejriwal’s case, the Court is right in both citing the general election as a good enough reason to grant him interim bail until June 1, when the last phase of polling will be held, and in rejecting the Centre’s argument that it would amount to favourable treatment to politicians. As the Court has pointed out, interim release orders relate to the “peculiarities associated with the person in question and surrounding circumstances”. The absence of a notable leader from the campaign arena, especially when he is yet to be convicted, will be a factor that will cast a doubt on the free and fair nature of the election.

The Court has made his bail conditional on his keeping away from the Delhi Secretariat and the Chief Minister’s office. And he is to abide by his statement that he would not sign any official file, unless required to do so to get the Lieutenant General’s approval for something. That Mr. Kejriwal did not respond to several summonses from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) does not show him in a good light. But, at the same time, it cannot be forgotten that be it the CBI’s corruption charge, or the ED’s money-laundering charge, the case against him is based on a belated statement made by suspects who had turned approvers and obtained pardon on the promise of testifying against him. The probative value of these statements will be tested during trial. Another factor to be noted is that there are statutory restrictions under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act on seeking bail, resulting in many questioning the validity of their arrest, as Mr. Kejriwal has done, rather than file for bail. If only courts applied the basic principle of granting bail to those who are unlikely to flee from justice, with appropriate conditions to neutralise their likely influence over witnesses and to safeguard evidence, orders granting bail would not evoke political reactions and doubts whether the political class is being unduly favoured.

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