Cannot Allow Anticipatory Bail Just Because Arrest Would Tarnish Applicants' Reputation: Gujarat HC
The Gujarat High Court on Friday granted anticipatory bail to social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand in the Rs 1.4 crore alleged fund embezzlement case related to their NGO Sabrang Trust.
In doing so, Justice JB Pardiwala advocated for ignoring the reputation of the applicants while deciding the application observing, "The reputation of the applicants in the society as well as being renowned journalists and social activists has nothing to do with the criminal charge of defalcation and misappropriation of the amount of grant.
The grant of anticipatory bail being extraordinary in character, such a prayer should be favourably considered in exceptional cases where it appears that the applicants are falsely implicated or a frivolous case has been launched with a motive to harass them or tarnish their image or reputation and the cases of the like nature."
The court essentially opined that anticipatory bail should not be favourably considered only because their arrest might put their reputation at stake, and that it is the prima facie material that should be accorded weightage. It observed,
"Thus, when a prima facie case is made out from the materials on record relating to the commission of non- bailable offences and there is no material in the record to show or suggest that a false case has been foisted or that the authorities concerned and the Investigating Agencies are vindictive or acting with mala fides, the prayer of the applicants for anticipatory bail cannot and should not be favourably considered merely on the ground that, if arrested, their reputation will be at stake."
It then allowed the application filed by the duo and directed them to appear before the Investigating Officer on February 15, for further investigation. They were released on each furnishing a personal bond of Rs.1 lakh with one surety each of the like amount.
An FIR was lodged against the activist couple on March 30 last year by Raees Khan Pathan, a former aide of Setalvad. He alleged that they had misused the funds to pay witnesses to make false deposition in some of the post-Godhra riot cases of 2002.
In its earlier submissions, the Gujarat Police had said that the HRD Ministry had granted Rs 1.4 crore between 2010 and 2013 to their NGO for a scheme under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. According to police, the couple had misused these funds, meant for education, for their "personal and political cause". This lead to them being booked under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
They had then moved the high court in May last year after a lower court rejected their anticipatory bail plea in the case. In their plea, they had also questioned Mr. Pathan's intention in filing the complaint.
The court, however, refused to allow any such contentions, opining that there was prima facie material indicating that the applicants obtained the grant fraudulently.
As for the demand that their reputation be given some consideration, the court observed, "I am also not impressed by the submission that as the applicants are journalists and social activists and are recipient of prestigious awards, they should be granted anticipatory bail as their arrest may tarnish their reputation in the society…
…the prominence or the reputation of the applicants in the Society strenuously canvassed in this case should not be allowed to overshadow the considerations of prima facie case and the likelihood of the investigation being adversely affected by pre-arrest bail."
The court, however, opined that it needs to take a balanced view, respecting individual liberty while allowing the investigation to take its course simultaneously. The bail application was, therefore, allowed, with the court asserting that it was inclined to give them "one last chance" to join the investigation and cooperate with the Investigating Officer.