In partial relief for P Chidambaram, the Supreme Court on Monday gave protection to the former union finance minister from being sent to Tihar Jail as of now in the INX Media corruption case after he offered to be in house arrest but declined to grant interim bail.
As the 73-year-old Congress veteran fought legal battles for relief in three different courts, Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar extended his Central Bureau of Investigation custody by one day on the expiry of his extended CBI remand and decided to hear his interim bail plea after 3.30 pm on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the apex court will also take up Chidambaram's challenge to the non-bailable warrant against him and remand orders passed by the trial court making it a crucial day for the former union minister since his arrest on the night of August 21.
Chidambaram has been subjected to custodial interrogation by the CBI for 11 days since his arrest after the Delhi high court on August 20 dismissed his anticipatory bail plea.
Chidambaram and his son Karti also faced tough opposition to their plea in another trial court for protection from arrest in the Aircel-Maxis cases lodged by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
There are reasons to believe that the Chidambarams carried out money laundering which is sufficient for their arrest, the probe agencies told Special Judge O P Saini.
The Chidambarams need to be dealt with an 'iron hand', the CBI said, maintaining that the probe in the Aircel-Maxis corruption case is still going on. The judge reserved for September 5 its order on the anticipatory bail pleas of the Chidambarams in the two cases.
The court on August 23 extended the interim protection from arrest granted to the Chidambarams till September 3 and on Monday extended it till Thursday.
The cases relate to alleged irregularities in the grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board approval in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal when Chidambaram was the finance minister.
The apex court initially, around 1.40 pm, asked the trial court to consider Chidambaram's request for interim bail in the INX Media corruption case on Monday itself and said if he is not granted the relief, his CBI custody would be extended by three more days.
However, hours after the top court passed the order, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the matter 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 NBW against him and remand orders passed by the trial court.
The order was modified on oral mentioning after Mehta said as per his calculation "15 days remand period of Chidambaram will expire tomorrow or at best day after tomorrow" and CBI cannot take his custody for three more days. On the expiry of 15-day remand, the court has the option to either grant him bail or remand him to judicial custody.
Taking note of Mehta's submissions, the bench said, "CBI is at liberty to move the trial court for seeking 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 the Congress leader 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 a 73-year-old man," Sibal told the bench.
Special Judge Kuhar, meanwhile, said he was passing his order keeping in view the observations made earlier in the day by the apex court.
Chidambaram, after expiry of his three-day CBI custody granted on August 30, was produced before the judge who said the Congress leader's interim bail plea would also be heard after 3:30 pm on Tuesday.
"Let the notice of interim bail application be given to CBI for its response on September 3," the judge said in his order.
The CBI opposed any relief to Chidambaram in the case and sought extension of his custodial interrogation by a day.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal moved the interim bail application of Chidambaram.
Mehta sought time to reply to Chidambaram's interim bail plea and said that notice be issued to the CBI as it is required statutorily.
"All citizens have to be treated equally," Mehta said, adding personal liberty of every citizen is equal.
During the hearing, Mehta asked what was so special and extraordinary in this case.
Responding to his submission, senior advocate A M Singhvi, also appearing for Chidambaram, said the Solicitor General would not have been here if it would have been a normal case.
Mehta said it would be a serious travesty of justice if the CBI is not given time to reply to the bail plea and demanded 10 days time.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.