Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has granted bail to former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in connection with the INX Media case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Chidambaram is currently in the custody of Enforcement Directorate (ED) till October 24 in the INX Media money laundering case. Chidambaram, who is currently in judicial custody in Tihar jail, had filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the apex court days after the High Court dismissed his bail plea contending that he might influence the witnesses in the case.
When the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before the Court that “flight risk” of economic offenders should be looked at as a national phenomenon and be dealt with in that manner merely because certain other offenders have flown out of the country, the Court said that the same cannot, be put in a straight-jacket formula so as to deny bail to the one who is before the Court, due to the conduct of other offenders, if the person under consideration is otherwise entitled to bail on the merits of his own case. Hence, such consideration including as to “flight risk” is to be made on individual basis being uninfluenced by the unconnected cases, more so, when the personal liberty is involved.
The Court noticed that Chidambaram was neither a “flight risk” nor there was possibility of his abscondence and said that Chidambaram
“being the Member of Parliament and a Senior Member of the Bar has strong roots in society and his passport having been surrendered and “look out notice” issued against him, there is no likelihood of his fleeing away from the country or his abscondence from the trial.”
On the allegation of possibility of influencing the witnesses, the Court noticed,
“Till the date, there has been no allegation regarding influencing of any witness by the appellant or his men directly or indirectly. In the number of remand applications, there was no whisper that any material witness has been approached not to disclose information about the appellant and his son. It appears that only at the time of opposing the bail and in the counter affidavit filed by the CBI before the High Court, the averments were made.”
The Court observed that CBI has no direct evidence against Chidambaram regarding the allegation of appellant directly or indirectly influencing the witnesses. It further noticed that the conclusion of the learned Single Judge of Delhi High Court “…that it cannot be ruled out that the petitioner will not influence the witnesses directly or indirectly……” is not substantiated by any materials and is only a generalised apprehension and appears to be speculative. It, hence, held,
“Mere averments that the appellant approached the witnesses and the assertion that the appellant would further pressurize the witnesses, without any material basis cannot be the reason to deny regular bail to the appellant; more so, when the appellant has been in custody for nearly two months, co-operated with the investigating agency and the charge sheet is also filed.”
Setting aside the Delhi High Court judgment, the Court, hence, directed that Chidambaram be released on bail if not required in another case subject to the condition of his executing bail bonds for a sum of Rs.1,00,000/- with two sureties of like sum to the satisfaction of the Special CBI Judge. The Court further directed,
“The passport if already not deposited, shall be deposited with the Special Court and Chidambaram shall not leave the country without leave of the Special Court and subject to the order that may be passed by the Special Judge from time to time. He shall make himself available for interrogation as and when required.”
[P. Chidambaram v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1380, decided on 22.10.2019\