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SC Order on Kejriwal Interim Bail Deferred, Hearing again on Thursday

SC Order on Kejriwal Interim Bail Deferred, Hearing again on Thursday

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 7: The Supreme Court Tuesday deferred its order in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s interim bail plea and fixed Thursday as the next date of hearing after the court made it clear that if he was granted interim relief Mr Kejriwal cannot function as the chief minister as it will have “cascading effect” on other issues.

“We are on the issue of propriety today, not on legality. We do not want anything to affect the functioning of the government,” the court noted.

A Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta underscored that interim relief to Mr Kejriwal would only be granted subject to the condition that he will not discharge any official duties as it may have a “cascading effect.” The judges asserted that the situation was “extraordinary” as the Lok Sabha elections were held only once in every five years.

“While granting interim bail, we examine whether there will be any misuse or if the person is a hardened criminal. That is not the case here,” Justice Khanna said during the proceedings.

Mr Kejriwal, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on March 21 over money laundering charges linked to the alleged liquor policy scam, was “not a habitual offender,” the court noted as it heard arguments for the grant of interim bail for the Delhi Chief Minister.

The top court – which is hearing the larger matter of Mr Kejriwal’s plea against his arrest – had earlier said it would consider bail for the AAP leader to allow him to campaign for his party in the ongoing Lok Sabha election. Delhi – which has seven Lok Sabha seats, all of which were won by the BJP in the last election – votes in a single phase on May 25.

The court began by observing that Arvind Kejriwal is the “elected Chief Minister” of the national capital. “There are elections… these are extraordinary circumstances and he is not a habitual offender,” the bench said. “If elections were not there… there would be no question of interim bail,” Justice Datta noted, after his colleague said, “This is question of proprietary… of public interest.”

However, the court also had words of warning for Mr Kejriwal, as it took note of the Enforcement Directorate’s allegations that the Chief Minister played a key role in formulating the liquor excise policy. “… suppose we release you, and you are allowed to participate in elections, you will (also) be performing official duties… it can have cascading effects,” the court noted, referring to Mr Kejriwal’s involvement in issues of governance.

To this, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Mr Kejriwal, stressed his client would “not be dealing with anything (connected to) this excise case.” “We make it clear… we don’t want you to be performing official duties if we release you…” the court reiterated, “We don’t want any interference in functioning of government.”

Mr Singhvi then assured the court Mr Kejriwal would offer a statement to the effect that he will “not sign any files”, so long as Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena “may not stop any work on the ground that I have not signed any file.” The reference was to ongoing spats between Delhi’s AAP government and the LG, with the former accusing the latter of being instigated by the BJP to interfere in matters outside of his jurisdiction.

Opposing such a relief, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said it would send a “wrong message” to the common man and accordingly encouraged the Court to not carve out any exceptions solely for politicians. The agency also flagged that the Delhi CM had evaded its summons on nine prior occasions.

Appearing for the central agency, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju argued that releasing the AAP leader would set a bad example. “What example are we setting? Are other people less important…? There can’t be any deviation only because he is a Chief Minister. Are we carving out exception for politicians? Is campaigning for elections be more important?” the ED’s lawyer said in court.

To this the court acknowledged it “certainly does not want that politicians who are involved in crimes be treated differently”, but also pointed out the larger picture – that Mr Kejriwal was, in fact, arrested just weeks before the 2024 Lok Sabha election was to begin.

Addressing the ED’s argument that exceptions should not be made for politicians, Justice Khanna said, “We are not saying politicians form a different class or have to be treated differently. Every person would have their own individual, exceptional circumstances.” The Court clarified that it was only considering whether interim relief needs to be given on account of the elections.

The AAP leader’s camp has argued this point – that the timing of Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest was meant to throw off the party’s poll plans and “destroy AAP before a single vote is cast.” The court also acknowledged the argument Mr Kejriwal was arrested after evading multiple summons to join its investigation. “… this (getting bail) will send a wrong message and demoralise common man… that (Arvind Kejriwal) gets luxury of campaigning…” the ED said.

In a major blow to Mr Kejriwal, the Delhi LG Saxena had on Monday recommended a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe against the AAP supremo on the allegation by the World Hindu Federation India (WHFI) that the AAP received political funding from the banned organisation ‘Sikhs for Justice.’

Meanwhile, a Delhi court on Monday extended the judicial custody of Mr Kejriwal, and his co-accused Chanpreet Singh and K Kavitha till May 20. Special Judge for the CBI and the ED Kaveri Baweja extended their custody after they were produced before the court through video conferencing on the expiry of their custody granted earlier.



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