Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was on Thursday granted bail by the Bombay high court, 25 days after his arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in the case of seizure of banned drugs aboard a cruise ship off the Mumbai coast earlier this month, a drugs bust that triggered a series of controversies and put the central agency and its officials under the spotlight.
However, Aryan Khan is not likely to walk out of the Arthur Road jail, where he is currently lodged under judicial custody, immediately as the court is yet to give its operative order on the conditions imposed while granting bail.
A single bench of Justice N W Sambre also granted bail to his co-accused Arbaaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha.
They had been denied bail twice by lower courts in a case that attracted huge media attention and saw a lot of drama outside the court with almost daily charges and counter-charges surrounding the NCB, its officials, witnesses and Maharashtra politicians.
The HC's order granting bail to Aryan Khan was hailed by several film personalities, while a huge group of fans gathered outside the superstar's sea-facing bungalow 'Mannat' in suburban Bandra in show of solidarity and celebrate end of his incarceration.
Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, who has been targeting the NCB, especially its zonal director in Mumbai Sameer Wankhede, over the cruise drugs bust episode, posted a cryptic message after the bail order and continued his tirade against the IRS officer.
Tweeting in Hindi, Malik, who in the past had termed the drugs case as 'bogus', said, 'Picture abhi baaki hai (The picture is not over yet).'
Outside the court premises, Arbaaz's father Aslam Merchant, a lawyer by profession, welcomed the decision, but said his son and Aryan Khan have undergone an agony of '34,560 minutes in jail'.
"My son and even Aryan, who is like my son, have been traumatised. Now, when our kids are on that side of the wall we understand the plight of several others and what is agony," Aslam Merchant, a lawyer by profession.
"All three applications are allowed. I will pass detailed orders by tomorrow evening," Justice Sambre said even as Aryan Khan's counsel Mukul Rohatgi was putting forth his arguments.
Aryan Khan's advocates then sought permission to submit cash bail to which the court refused and said surety is to be given.
Hearing on their bail applications started on Tuesday.
"I could have given the order tomorrow also. But I gave it today," Justice Sambre said.
The legal team of the 23-year-old Aryan Khan will now try to complete the formalities for his release by Friday or Saturday.
Justice Sambre said he would pass a detailed order assigning reasons later.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, appearing for the NCB, commenced his arguments at 2.58 pm and completed the same a little after 4.10 pm.
After the NCB, Rohatgi, a former attorney general, started his rejoinder arguments which went on for about 15 minutes.
His arguments were cut short abruptly by Justice Sambre, who tossed the case related papers towards his staff and said, "All three applications are allowed."
This led to a scramble among media persons and lawyers to exit the courtoom.
While hearing the NCB's arguments, Justice Sambre sought to know on what basis the anti-drug agency was saying that Aryan Khan had dealt with commercial quantity of drugs.
To this, Singh said Aryan Khan had made an attempt to deal with commercial quantity.
"WhatsApp chats show this. The NCB has also obtained a certificate under section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act to authenticate that the electronic evidence has been collected from the accused's phone," he said.
Aryan Khan, Merchant and Dhamecha were arrested by the NCB on October 3 and booked under relevant sections of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) for possession, consumption, sale/purchase of banned drugs, conspiracy and abetment.
The NCB opposed their bail pleas and argued that the case attracted conspiracy and abetment charges.
Aryan Khan's counsel Rohatgi, however, said conspiracy means there has to be a 'meeting of minds'.
"Aryan does not know any of the other accused in the case except Arbaaz Merchant. There is absolutely no material to show conspiracy," Rohatgi argued.
So far, 20 persons have been arrested in the drugs case.
Singh argued that Aryan Khan and Merchant are habitual consumers of drugs.
He opposed Aryan Khan's arguments that there was no drug recovery from him and said there was conscious possession as he was aware that Merchant was carrying charas which was meant to be for consumption during journey on the Goa-bound cruise ship.
Aryan Khan was in NCB's remand for four days before being sent to judicial custody on October 7.
Rohatgi later told reporters that once formalities are done Aryan Khan would be released from jail.
"For me, it is a regular case -- to win some, to lose some. I am happy that he (Khan) has got bail," he said.
As the news of bail to Aryan Khan spread, fans started to arrive outside Shah Rukh's residence amid the presence of nearly 20 cops.
Shah Rukh's youngest son, AbRam, was seen waving at the fans from the terrace.
A group of his supporters were seen flaunting a banner with 'Welcome back prince Aryan' written on it.
Others carried placards of 'We love Shah Rukh. We love Aryan'.
They also burst fire crackers, but were later stopped by the cops.
"This is the happiest day for us. Our 'mannat' (prayer) has been fulfilled. We prayed for nothing but love and positivity for the Khan family so it is emotional for us to see that they have finally been given relief," Sujata Shah, a fan, told PTI.
Some fans carried banners with messages like 'Team Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club Welcomes Aryan Khan' and shouted slogans in support of the 55-year-old superstar.
Filmmakers Rahul Dholakia, Sudhir Mishra, and actor R Madhavan were among the film personalities who hailed the HC's bail order.
Director Sanjay Gupta and actor Swara Bhasker singer Mika, among others, also expressed happiness over the development.