Duty Of Court To Protect Personal Liberty : Karnataka HC

It is most refreshing, most rejoicing and most rejuvenating to learn that the Karnataka High Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Mr. Rakesh Shetty vs. 1. State of Karnataka, 2. Chandrakanth Ramalingam in Criminal Petition No. 5445/2020 has cited the recent extremely laudable order passed by the Supreme Court Bench of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee in Arnab Goswami’s case to grant anticipatory bail to Rakesh Shetty, Managing Director and Editor of Power TV in an alleged case of extortion. The extortion case was registered by the Bengaluru police against Rakesh Shetty after his channel ran a series of reports raising corruption allegations against the family of the Karnataka Chief Minister, BS Yedyurappa. Bail was granted by Karnataka High Court to Rakesh.

To start with, the ball is set rolling by first and foremost pointing in para 1 that, “The present petition is filed by accused No.1 under Section 438 of Cr.P.C. to enlarge him on anticipatory bail in Crime No.135/20 of K.P.Agrahara Police Station, Bengaluru, for the offences punishable under Section 506, 120B, 465, 384, 419 of IPC.”

While elaborating on the facts of the case, it is then observed in para 3 that, “The brief facts of the case are that petitioner accused No.1 is the Managing Director of Power TV News Channel. Complaint’s Company is engaged in construction activities and has obtained tenders from various Departments of the State and Central Governments and BDA. In respect of four different contracts of BDA, an amount of Rs.140 Crores was due to the complainant. It is further alleged that in the month of June, 2020, petitioner-accused No.1 called the complainant and asked him to meet him in his office at Mathikere. Accordingly, the complainant went and met the petitioner-accused No.1 and the complainant informed the petitioner-accused No.1 that he wants to put up an advertisement hoarding at Yelahanka at A.P. Border Troll Road which his Company has developed. While discussing, petitioner-accused No.1 also informed the complainant that he is very close to Mr. Amit Shah, the Hon’ble Minister of Home Affairs, Government of India and he is in touch with him on regular basis. He also claimed that he could help him in getting any work done either from State or Central Governments. It is further alleged in the complaint that the complainant was in constant touch with the petitioner-accused No.1 and during 4th week of June, 2020 he was persuaded to discuss with him about a tender floated by New Mangalore Port Trust in respect of construction of break water for fishing harbor at Kulai and the value of the work was around Rs.100 Crores and tender got notified on 24.9.2019. After coming to know the said information, petitioner-accused No.1 called one Mr.Parithosh Bala, Chief Engineer (Civil) New Mangalore Port Trust and spoke to him identifying himself as an Officer working in the office of Mr.Amit Shah, Hon’ble Home Minister and further told him that he has been directed by Hon’ble Home Minister to inform him that the tender submitted by M/s. Ramalingam Construction Company must be approved and granted in its favour. Subsequently, complainant after seeing, was astonished and taken aback after receiving the letter dated 29.6.2020 from New Mangalore Port Trust regarding disqualifying him from the tender process on the ground that he tried to influence the tender awarding authority.”

Going ahead, it is then pointed out in para 4 that, “It is further alleged that the petitioner-accused No.1 forced the complainant to divulge and give him the details of pending bills from various Departments of Government of Karnataka and he kept on pressurizing him to give every work details assuring him that he would personally get them cleared. He also informed the complainant that he is aware of the pending bills of the complainant’s Company to the tune of Rs.140 Crores payable from BDA and he would ensure the said payment be cleared by the BDA and he should be paid 5% on the said amount.”

Not stopping here, it is then envisaged in para 5 that, “It is further alleged that on 26.8.2020 BDA has cleared Rs.7.79 Crores out of pending bill of Rs.140 Crores to the Company of the complainant. Petitioner-accused No.1 contacted the complainant and insisted him by saying that the said amount has been cleared from BDA and he is entitled to get 5% of the amount as his commission. Complainant refused to pay as he was knowing the fact that the said amount was cleared by the BDA in a routine manner. It is further alleged that the petitioner-accused No.1 was in continuous touch with the complainant on regular basis and induced him to speak in a tutored manner by taking the names of several persons in the Government and further assured that if he speaks the way he wants, he would get all his works cleared from the Government and hearing that the complainant got carried away and tutored the line of tutored conversation without being aware as to for what reason he wanted to take the names and in what manner it would help him. He further alleged that none of the conversation made by him with the petitioner-accused No.1 is true. Later, the complainant started suspicious of the actual intent of the petitioner-accused No.1. It is further alleged that the petitioner-accused No.1 asked 5% of the amount and he also threatened that he will tarnish his reputation by misusing the tutored line and false statement which has been spoken against certain individuals. Because of the threat he paid an amount of Rs.25 lakhs in cash on 22.8.2020. It is further alleged that on 2.9.2020 he was surprised to watch a programme telecasted in the Power TV Channel of the petitioner-accused No.1 wherein he himself was a part of panel discussion and the petitioner-accused No.1 was making several false allegations referring to the work undertaken by his Company. Subsequently, many episodes were also aired/telecasted by the petitioner-accused No.1 through his Channel relating to the work done by the Company of the complainant linked with some politicians and his family members who had no connection with the work executed by the Company of the complainant. The petitioner-accused No.1 also referred to several conversations held between them. The petitioner has used tutored conversations which were extracted from him falsely implicating others to suit his needs to achieve his oblique motive. It is further alleged that the petitioner-accused No.1 used to extract money from others by falsely implicating them in the conversation. It is further alleged that he has edited the conversation in electronic form to suit his stories and thereby committed the offence. On the basis of the said allegations, a case has been registered.”

Be it noted, it is then observed in para 20 that, “It is the duty of the Court to exercise its jurisdiction in proper way to protect the personal liberty of a citizen. If the Courts do not interfere, we are troubling the path on destruction. This proposition of law has been laid down by the Hon’ble Apex Court in its recent decision in the case of Arnab Manoranjan Goswami Vs. The State of Maharashtra & Others, decided on 11.11.2020.”

Quite remarkably, it is then held in para 21 that, “It is well settled proposition of law that while considering the bail application, the Court cannot hold a mini trial. If at all because of the intervention of the petitioner-accused No.1, the tendering authority has disqualified the complainant from the tender process, then under such circumstances, some civil remedy is also available for the complainant to proceed in accordance with law, if he is advised to do so. These are all serious issues which are to be considered and appreciated during the course of trial. If the conduct of the petitioner and complainant is seen, complainant met the petitioner accused No.1 after coming to know about tender application filed by the complainant to New Mangalore Port Trust by calling him over phone. The petitioner-accused No.1 called the Chief Engineer of New Mangalore Port Trust identifying himself as an Officer working in the office of Hon’ble Home Minister, Government of India for approval. At that time, the complainant neither resisted the petitioner-accused No.1 nor he immediately filed the complaint against him for impersonation. Be that as it may, when petitioner-accused No.1 induced the complainant to speak in a tutored manner taking the names of several persons in the Government to get his work done from the Government which he wants to carry and spoke in a tutored manner, creates a doubt. Complainant being a responsible person and Director of a big construction company cannot be expected to speak in a tutored manner. It is true that autobiography and antecedents of the accused must be seen while considering the bail application, but at the same time autobiography and antecedents of the complainant must also be seen. Court has to put the facts of the case of the complainant and accused into a scale and weigh it to ascertain the truth. Complainant who is before the Court has also not come up with clean hands and it appears that all is not well. In that light, I am of the considered opinion that in order to ascertain the truth, a fair and unbiased investigation is necessary. In that light, by imposing some stringent conditions, if the petitioner-accused No.1 is ordered to be released on anticipatory bail, it would serve both the ends.”

Finally, it is then held that, “Accordingly, the petition is allowed and the petitioner-accused No.1 is granted anticipatory bail. In the event of his arrest in Crime No.135/20 of K.P.Agrahara Police Station, Bengaluru, for the offences punishable under Section 506, 120B, 465, 384, 419 of IPC, subject to the following conditions:-

i) Petitioner-accused No.1, namely Rakesh Shetty, shall execute a personal bond for Rs.2,00,000/- (Rupees two lakhs only) with two sureties for the like sum to the satisfaction of the Investigating Officer.

ii) He shall surrender before the Investigating Officer within twenty days from today, failing with this order shall automatically stand cancelled.

iii) He shall co-operate with the Investigation as and when required.

iv) He shall not tamper with the prosecution evidence in any manner.

v) He shall mark his attendance once in fifteen days between 10.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. before the jurisdictional police, till the charge sheet is filed.

vi) He shall not leave the jurisdiction of the trial Court without prior permission.

vii) He shall not indulge in similar type of criminal activities in future.

viii) If he violates any one of the conditions, the bail is liable to be cancelled.”

In essence, this notable ruling very rightly complies with what was laid down by the Apex Court in Arnab Goswami’s case. In Arnab’s case, Justice Dr DY Chandrachud had minced no words to say that, “There has to be a message to High Courts – Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. We are seeing case after case. HCs are failing to exercise jurisdiction.” It is really good to see that the Karnataka High Court has also observed that the provisions of anticipatory bail enshrined in Section 438 of Cr.P.C. is conceptualized under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which pertains to personal liberty and it shall be given a liberal interpretation.

 

Sanjeev Sirohi