New Delhi: In a day of fast-paced developments, P Chidambaram Monday got partial relief from the Supreme Court which said he would not be sent to Tihar Jail as of now in the INX Media corruption case after the former finance minister offered that he be placed under house arrest instead of being sent to prison.
The apex court initially, at around 1.40 PM, asked the trial court to consider Chidambaram’s request for interim bail on Monday itself and said that in case he is not granted the relief, his CBI’s custody would be extended by three more days.
However, hours after the top court passed the order, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the matter at around 3 PM and said there would be “jurisdictional difficulty” in implementing the order passed earlier in the day.
After hearing him, a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna modified the order and advanced the hearing for Tuesday from Thursday (September 5) on Chidambaram’s plea challenging the non-bailable warrant (NBW) against him and remand orders passed by the trial court.
The order was modified on oral mentioning after Mehta said that as per his calculation “15 days remand period of Chidambaram would expire tomorrow or at best day after tomorrow” and CBI cannot take his custody by three more days.
Taking note of Mehta’s submissions, the bench said, “CBI is at liberty to move the trial court for seeking an extension of remand till tomorrow.”
When the case was heard in the pre-lunch session, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, questioned the NBW issued against the former union minister and said Chidambaram has already been in CBI’s custody for last 12 days.
“He (Chidambaram) is in custody for 12 days. He was arrested pursuant to an NBW which could have never been issued. Either give him interim bail or put him in house arrest. He should not be sent to Tihar jail. He is 73-year-old man,” Sibal told the bench.
“Has he (Chidambaram) moved regular bail?,” the bench asked Sibal, who said Chidambaram is in CBI custody and has not moved regular bail plea yet.
“They (CBI) pasted a notice at my (Chidambaram’s) residence at 12 o’clock in the night and asked me to appear before them within two hours. On the basis of that notice, they got an NBW. This fact was suppressed from the court that after the notice, at 1. 10 AM we responded to them through e-mail,” he said, adding that remand orders of trial court can be set aside by the top court.
Sibal said that till Chidambaram’s plea is decided by the apex court, he should be granted interim bail or be put in house arrest.
“A competent court is seized of the matter,” the bench told Sibal, who said Chidambaram is entitled to challenge the remand orders.
The bench again said, “Why should we skip the jurisdiction of the regular court and the high court?”.
Sibal said, “I will have to make out a case for that. Kindly hear this petition. It is shocking what they (CBI) did to this man (Chidambaram)” When the bench said Chidambaram should move regular bail, Sibal said, “Why should I be sent to Tihar jail?”.
He said if Chidambaram was sent to Tihar, then his plea before the apex court would become infructuous.
When the bench asked the CBI to file a reply to Chidambaram’s plea and posted the matter for hearing on September 5, Sibal said, “Let him be in house arrest till then. He is not running away. Let the petition not become infructuous”.
When the bench said Chidambaram’s counsel can request the trial court to give him interim relief, Sibal said the trial judge would “reject” it.
“They (CBI) cannot humiliate a person like this,” he said, adding that the top court can order status quo till it hears Chidambaram’s plea.
Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for CBI, opposed the grant of interim relief to Chidambaram and said an accused cannot say that he wants to be in either police custody or judicial custody.
He said the trial court would decide on the issue of remand and no interim direction should be passed by the apex court.
“Having regard to the submission made at the Bar, the petitioner (Chidambaram) is permitted to move the concerned court seeking appropriate relief including the prayer for interim bail/extension of police custody and other remedies if any available in accordance with law,” the bench said.
“The concerned court shall consider the prayer for interim bail/extension of police custody of the petitioner and pass order today itself. In case request for prayer for interim bail/extension of police custody is rejected, the court concerned shall extend the interim police custody of the petitioner for three days in view of the pendency of this petition(s),” the top court said.
Later, Mehta mentioned the matter and said he could not attend the hearing in the pre-lunch session as he was in a condolence meet organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association in memory of senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who himself was a renowned senior lawyer.
“If I do not oppose this, I cannot oppose any other common man who will directly file petition in the Supreme Court challenging the remand orders,” Mehta said.
“There are 50 people standing in the line to challenge their remand orders. Liberty of a common man is equally important,” he added.
CBI had lodged an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as union finance minister.