Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was on Tuesday granted bail in a criminal defamation complaint filed by the Delhi and District Cricket Association and cricketer-turned-politician Chetan Chauhan after he appeared before a court which insisted on his presence.
Kejriwal, who initially filed a plea through his counsel for exemption from personal appearance for the day, appeared before Metropolitan Magistrate Abhilash Malhotra, who said that the accused has to first establish his identity before the court and there should be a valid ground for seeking exemption.
The court said that the offence of defamation was bailable and granted bail to Kejriwal on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 10,000 and a surety of the like amount.
The chief minister's counsel moved an application seeking dropping of proceedings against him and sought exemption from personal appearance till the time court decides the plea.
The submission, however, did not go down well with the court which asked the counsel to show where does the law says that the accused is exempted till the time his application is pending.
"Where under the law it is written that till an application is pending you (accused) are exempted from appearance? Show me the law, I have to decide it today only," the magistrate said, adding there was no immunity to chief ministers from appearance.
When advocates V K Ohri and Rishikesh, appearing for Kejriwal, asked where was the need for the chief minister to appear in person in the case, the magistrate said, "Your identity has to be established before the me. Don't make premature submissions. How your identity will be established before the court? You have to appear before me. It is me who has to see whom I have to try or not."
The court said that Constitution has given immunity to the President and Governors and not to chief ministers.
When the court asked Kejriwal's counsel to show it the law on the issue, it was decided that the chief minister will appear.
Kejriwal's appearance drew a huge crowd in the courtroom including lawyers, court staff, litigants and media persons. Minutes before he appeared, the policemen did a security check and the corridors were sanitised.
When the counsel maintained calling the chief minister to court has caused inconvenience to general public, the magistrate said that he was also doing his constitutional duty by seeking the presence of the accused before the court.
During the hearing, advocate Sangram Patnaik, who appeared for the DDCA and Chauhan, said that he no longer wants to continue with the case due to personal reasons. The court, however, said as the complainant was not present today, no decision in this regard can be taken, and kept it for April 1.
The court also allowed Chauhan's plea seeking personal exemption from appearance for the day on the ground that he was in Lucknow as he has been recently appointed a minister in Uttar Pradesh.
Kejriwal sought dropping of proceedings against him on the ground that the Delhi and District Cricket Association is a juristic person (other than a living human being) and the allegations are that Kejriwal defamed the complainant by saying that sexual favours were demanded by the members of the cricketing body.
"Since the complaint has not been filed by the aggrieved person (natural person), the court cannot take cognizance under the provision of CrPC and further proceedings against Kejriwal may be dropped," the plea said.
BJP MP Kirti Azad, a co-accused who is on bail in the case, also moved an application seeking discharge. The court directed DDCA and Chauhan to file their reply on the next date of hearing on April 1.
The court had on January 30 summoned Kejriwal and Azad, saying their statements prima facie adversely affected the reputation of the cricketing body and its officials.
The plea has claimed that defamatory statements were made by Kejriwal and Azad, who himself is a member of DDCA, "to remain in the public eye and gain political mileage".
"In an interview to a news channel, Kejriwal had alleged that apart from financial irregularities, there were other major wrongdoings in DDCA, including a sex racket," the plea has alleged.
The allegation against Azad was that he endorsed the defamatory allegations made by Kejriwal and claimed he had raised a similar issue in 2007.
IMAGE: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal arrives at Tis Hazari court in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo