Stating that it was “not looking at his personality” but was only concerned about the right to a free trial, the Supreme Court (SC) Tuesday released Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal on regular bail in a sexual assault case and rejected the Goa police’s repeated plea to let the victim be examined by the trial court first.
Cautioning Tejpal against attempting to influence the outcome of the case by tampering with evidence, the SC directed the Goa trial court to conclude the trial preferably within eight months.
“We are not looking at his personality, nor his relationships, but we are concerned about the right to a free trial. If we don’t come to the rescue of this person, don’t you (police) think liberty of this person is curtailed? Once your investigation is complete, why do you expect a man to remain inside? He is still an accused and is not convicted of the charges,” said a Bench of Justices H L Dattu and S A Bobde. The Bench observed that the SC cannot direct a man to remain behind bars for an indefinite period after the investigation ends and the chargesheet is filed.
“We have held that speedy trial is a must. In this case, with 153 witnesses to be examined, speedy trial is a difficult task. Trial will take minimum three years and the maximum punishment is 10 years under the penal charges. Suppose he is acquitted of the charges after three years, are we not doing injustice to him?” the court questioned Additional Solicitor General Neeraj K Kaul, who was appearing for the police.
Kaul corrected the court, saying that 10 years in jail was the minimum punishment under the charges. “The maximum is life imprisonment. We cannot lose sight of the fact that balance of right to free trial of an accused has to be balanced with the right to fair trial for the victim too,” he said. The ASG told the court that Tejpal’s daughter had met the victim’s mother urging them to withdraw the case and there were several other instances to give rise to “reasonable apprehensions” that if he was released on bail, he could induce prime witnesses, five of whom, including the victim, were his former employees. Kaul requested the Bench to let the victim and her four friends be examined by the trial court before releasing Tejpal on bail. However, the Bench reminded Kaul of the SC verdict in Sanjay Chandra’s bail case in the 2G scam.
It also asked Tejpal’s counsel senior advocate Salman Khurshid to convey to his client that any violation of the bail conditions and attempt to tamper with the evidence or induce witnesses could “land him in a soup”. Khurshid assured the bench he would communicate the message in the “strongest possible terms”.
The Bench also decided to keep the bail petition pending to enable the Goa police to approach the court to recall the order if Tejpal violates the conditions.