delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by the petitioner under Section 482 read with Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’), seeking to set aside the order dated 09-08-2023 passed by learned Additional Sessions Judge, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi and further seeking modification of bail conditions imposed vide order dated 23-02-2021 in case arising out of FIR registered under Sections 124A, 153, 153-A, 120-B of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’). Swarana Kanta Sharma, J., rejects the prayer seeking modification of bail condition as there is no infringement of mobility rights of the accused or any geographical boundaries restriction placed on the petitioner but a reasonable condition of seeking permission of the Court before travelling abroad which has not been denied to her in the past.

FIR was registered on the allegations that there was a concerted campaign by banned terror organisations to disrupt the Republic Day national ceremony through several unlawful acts in the name of protests. During social media monitoring on 04-02-2021, it had come to the notice of agencies that a link of a Google Document (‘toolkit’) had been accidentally shared on Twitter, which contained a detailed plan of a larger conspiracy to wage an economic, social, cultural and regional war against the country. As per FIR, a perusal of the said documents/toolkit had also revealed that it was promoting campaign material circulated by a Canada-based organisation that had openly and deliberately shared posts on social media platforms that tend to create disharmony or feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups, or castes or communities.

It was also alleged that due to this conspiracy, certain incidents of vandalism by anti-social elements had taken place outside Indian Embassy in Rome, Italy and violence had also taken place on 26-01-2021 on the streets of Delhi i.e. at Red Fort, near ITO, in Nangloi, etc. which had resulted in large-scale loss of public property and more than 500 police personnel had been injured in these incidents. It was further alleged that after this incident, various social media accounts had been used to spread rumours and fake news/videos to promote enmity between different groups and give provocation to commit riots. From the contents of such documents/toolkit, it was observed that there was a global conspiracy to bring dissatisfaction towards the elected government established by law and promote disharmony and feelings of enmity between different groups with intent to cause riots.

The accused was arrested from her residence on 13-02-2021 and was granted bail vide order dated 23-02-2021 by Additional Sessions Judge, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi. Thus, the issue under consideration was whether the condition imposed in the bail order dated 23-02-2021 for seeking prior permission of the concerned Trial Court for the purpose of travelling abroad is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The Court noted that in the present case, it is alleged that the accused was the Editor of the “toolkit” and was involved in its preparation, which as per the prosecution case contained a detailed plan of a larger conspiracy to wage war against the country and to create disharmony or feeling of enmity not only amongst different groups, including calling for protests outside Indian Embassies and violence on the Republic Day, but also alleged to have created a WhatsApp group using her mobile number, which included other persons who were involved in editing of the said “toolkit’, though she had later deleted the WhatsApp group.

The Court further noted that as per Section 439(1)(a) of CrPC, the High Court concerned or Court of Sessions is empowered to impose any such conditions which it considers necessary, while granting bail in cases specified under Section 437(3) CrPC. However, one area where the exercise of the right to travel abroad often gets clouded is when an individual is accused in a criminal case. In criminal cases, while granting bails, it is within the purview of the Courts concerned to impose conditions on the grant of bail to ensure that the accused co-operates with the investigating agencies and does not evade justice. One such condition which is occasionally imposed is the requirement for the accused to obtain prior permission of the Court before traveling abroad as provided under Section 437 (2) and 439(1)(a) as in the present case.

The Court opined that the Courts are required to balance the accused’s right to personal liberty and the right to travel abroad against the legitimate concerns of ensuring the accused’s presence during trial and protecting the interests of the victims and the State as well as the investigating agency for conducting and concluding investigation without any hindrance. Thus, the Court does not undermine the fundamental right of the petitioner to have freedom to travel abroad as per Article 21 of Indian Constitution, but at the same time, it also cannot undermine the right of the prosecuting agency to ensure that the investigation is carried out and completed without any hindrance. It is not against the principles of fair adjudication to ensure that neither the investigation nor the trial is stalled by absence of the accused/petitioner.

The Court concluded that the order portrays the fine balancing between the restriction on the right of an accused under Article 21 by imposing this restriction and balancing it by permitting her to go abroad after seeking permission of the Court. It portrays that it is not a blanket ban or infringement of her fundamental right to travel abroad but a reasonable restriction by the Court meant to enforce through the legal system and order that neither the investigation nor the trial is affected by the absence or non-availability of the accused, while causing and interfering in most minimal manner with the convenience and fundamental right of the petitioner.

The Court rejected the prayer regarding deletion of bail condition imposed vide order dated 23-02-2021 and directed that in case an application seeking permission to go abroad is moved by the petitioner, at least one month prior to her intended visit, the State will file an appropriate response to the same expeditiously giving sufficient time to the Trial Court to pass an appropriate order.

[Disha A Ravi v State, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 6051, decided on 26-09-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Shri Singh, Mr. Abhinav Sekhri, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. Amol Sinha, ASC (Crl), with ACP Manoj Kumar, PS IFSO, Special Cell, Mr. Kshitiz Garg, Mr. Ashvini Kumar & Ms. Chavi Lazarus, Advocates for respondents

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