In a relief to jailed Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, the Supreme Court Thursday granted him interim bail in an alleged cheating case paving way for his release, saying it is a fit case to invoke its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution as facts in the present case are very peculiar.
'The petitioner is directed to be released on interim bail in respect of FIR being Case Crime No.70 of 2020, registered with Police Station Kotwali, Rampur, Uttar Pradesh for the offences punishable under Sections 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code on such terms and conditions as found appropriate by the trial court,' a bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao said.
The bench noted that 'in ordinary circumstances, we would not have entertained the present writ petition. The petitioner would have been directed to take recourse to the remedy available to him in law. However, the facts in the present case are very peculiar'.
The top court said though FIR, in this case, was registered on March 18, 2020, and the charge sheet was filed on September 10, 2020, Khan has only now been implicated, i.e., after a period of one year and seven months, by order dated May 6, 2022, passed by the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Rampur.
'It is not as if the allegations which are now sought to be made against the petitioner could not have been made at that point of time. The main allegation against the petitioner in the said FIR No.70 of 2020 is that the certificates are forged. The further allegation is that the person who had issued the certificates was not authorized to issue those certificates.
'Taking into consideration the delay in the implication of the petitioner in FIR No. 70 of 2020 and the nature of the allegations made therein, we are of the considered view that it will not be in the interest of justice to deprive the petitioner of his personal liberty, particularly when in respect of 87 criminal cases/FIRs, which were the subject matter of Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 39 of 2022, he has already been released on bail,' the bench also comprising Justices B R Gavai and A S Bopanna, said.
The top court also noted that the last such bail order has been passed on May 10, 2022, by the Single Judge of the Allahabad high court after a gap of so many months from the date of reserving the order, i.e., December 4, 2021.
The bench also rejected the submission of the Uttar Pradesh government that Khan has threatened the investigating officer (IO) in the case.
'Insofar as the contention that the petitioner threatened the IO is concerned, we may only observe that it appears to be a matter of sheer coincidence that the General Diary (GD) entry with regard to said threats is registered on May 17, 2022, at 03:04 hrs., i.e., the date on which the present proceedings were to come up for hearing and were heard. We, therefore, do not find it necessary to make any further comments thereon,' the bench said.
The apex court also directed Khan to file for regular bail within two weeks and asked the trial court to decide it on merits without being influenced by any of the observations of the top court.
'The interim bail granted to the petitioner by the present order shall continue to operate till the decision of the competent court in the application for regular bail and in the event that the regular bail application is decided against the interest of the petitioner, the present interim bail shall continue to operate for a further period of two weeks from the date of the order passed by the Competent Court in the application for regular bail,' the bench said.
Khan is presently lodged in Sitapur jail in connection with several cases, including that of land grabbing, against him in Rampur.
Article 142 of the Constitution deals with the Supreme Court's power to exercise its jurisdiction and pass the order for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it.
The Uttar Pradesh government had earlier opposed Khan's bail plea and termed him as a 'land grabber' and a 'habitual offender'.
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, had told the apex court that he had allegedly threatened the investigating officer in the land grabbing case.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioner, had submitted that from the facts, it is clear that the Ruling Party is making every attempt possible to keep Khan behind the bars by implicating him in one FIR after the other.
He had submitted that the present case is a case of political vendetta.
The top court had earlier expressed displeasure over the delay in hearing the bail application of Khan, saying this is a travesty of justice.
An FIR was lodged against Khan and others for alleged grabbing of enemy property and misappropriation of public money of more than hundreds of crores of rupees.
It was alleged in the FIR that during Partition one Imamuddin Qureshi went to Pakistan and his land was recorded as enemy property, but Khan in collusion with others grabbed the plot.
The FIR was lodged at the Azem Nagar police station in Rampur under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
Earlier, the apex court in February had refused interim bail to Khan for campaigning in the Uttar Pradesh elections and asked him to approach the court concerned for expeditious disposal.