New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the trial court hearing P Chidambaram’s case to consider his request for interim bail in the INX Media corruption case after the former finance minister pleaded not to send him to Tihar jail under judicial custody. He offered to stay under house arrest instead. The apex court said in the event that Chidambaram’s request for interim bail were not considered by the trial court on 2 September (today), his CBI custody would extend by a day.
The court said it was passing the order keeping in view the observations made earlier in the day by the Supreme Court, which asked the trial court to extend Chidamabaram’s CBI custody by a day.
Chidambaram, after the expiry of his three-day CBI custody granted on 30 August, was produced before special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar who said the Congress leader’s interim bail plea would also be heard after 3:30 PM on Tuesday. “Let the notice of interim bail application be given to CBI for its response on 3 September,” the judge said, in its five-page order.
The judge noted the development of the case in the apex court which had initially asked the trial court to consider Chidambaram’s request for interim bail on Monday itself and said that in case he was not granted the relief, his CBI custody would be extended by three more days.
However, hours after solicitor-general Tushar Mehta’s intervention, a bench of justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna modified the order and advanced the hearing for Tuesday from Thursday (5 September) on Chidambaram’s plea challenging the non-bailable warrant (NBW) against him and remand orders passed by the trial court.
In the trial court, the CBI opposed any relief to Chidambaram and sought an extension of his custodial interrogation by a day. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal moved the interim bail application of the former minister and senior Congress leader, who was arrested on the night of 21 August.
Mehta sought time to reply to Chidambaram’s interim bail plea and said that notice be issued to the CBI as it is required statutorily. “All citizens have to be treated equally,” Mehta said, adding that personal liberty of every citizen is equal. After the judge was informed about Monday’s Supreme Court hearing, he asked if there was any direction by the apex court to seek the relief and to decide on it today itself.
During the hearing, Mehta asked what was so special and extraordinary in this case. Responding to his submission, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, another advocate appearing for Chidambaram, said the Solicitor General would not have been here if it would have been a normal case. Mehta said it would be a serious travesty of justice if the CBI were not given time to reply to the bail plea and demanded 10 days time.
Sibal said he wanted to argue for bail.
While submissions were being made by both the sides, the judge said, “I do not know what order has been passed by the Supreme Court.” Singhvi said that, according to them, the apex court has asked to decide the interim bail plea today itself or extend the police custody till 5 September.
The special court on 30 August had extended Chidambaram’s CBI custody till today. Chidambaram, 73, has been already subjected to custodial interrogation by the CBI for 11 days since his arrest on 21 August after the Delhi High Court on 20 August dismissed his anticipatory bail plea. His son Karti was also present in the court.
Chidambaram, after his arrest by the CBI from his Jor Bagh residence, had been produced before the court on August 22 and was remanded to four-day CBI custody. The CBI had registered an FIR on 15 May 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the Enforcement Directorate lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.
Chidambaram’s CBI custody in the INX Media corruption case expired today, which necessitated the procedures above. He was produced before the concerned trial court during the day.
Earlier, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, told the Supreme Court bench that the former minister had been arrested pursuant to the NBW and he has been in the CBI custody for last 12 days.
“The NBW should not have been issued. Either give me (Chidambara) interim bail or put me in house arrest. Chidambaram should not be sent to Tihar Jail,” Sibal said while questioning the issuance of NBW and the subsequent orders of the trial court remanding the former minister to CBI custody.
Remand orders of the trial court can be set aside by the apex court and Chidambaram should be given interim protection till the top court decides his petition, Sibal added. “He (Chidambaram) has to file regular bail plea,” the bench said, adding, “The competent court is seized of the matter. Why should we skip the jurisdiction of the regular court and the High Court?” To this, the senior advocate said that if Chidambaram was sent to Tihar jail under judicial custody, his petition would become infructuous.
Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for CBI, opposed the grant of any interim protection to Chidambaram and said that an accused could not say that he wants to be in either police custody or judicial custody.
Sibal said that Chidambaram would be produced before the trial court today after the expiry of his CBI custody and if he would be sent to Tihar under judicial custody, his petition before the apex court would become infructuous.”Give me (Chidambaram) interim bail or put me in house arrest. He is a 74-year-old man and has been in CBI custody for last 12 days,” Sibal said.
The bench said that Chidambaram could make a request in this regard before the trial court. Sibal said however that the trial court would “reject” his request and the top court should give him protection till the pending petition is decided. The bench, after hearing the submissions, directed Chidambaram to approach the trial court seeking appropriate relief in accordance with the law, including prayer for interim bail.
The bench said it would hear Chidambaram’s plea on 5 September.