The Bombay high court on Tuesday granted anticipatory bail to activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand in a Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FEMA) violation case, saying it is unable to find any threat to national security or public interest if they remain free.
The court while granting bail to the duo also held that it does not find any possibility of the accused persons fleeing from justice and that their custodial interrogation was not required.
Justice Mridula Bhatkar, however, observed that prima facie Teesta and her husband have violated the provisions of FCRA) and directed them to cooperate with the investigations and not instigate anyone to protest against CBI and not indulge in any criminal activity.
Justice Bhatkar was hearing the anticipatory bail applications filed by Teesta and Javed in connection with a case registered by CBI alleging that her company received Rs 1.8 crore from abroad without mandatory approval from Centre.
"Prima facie this court holds that there has been violation under the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act). But where is the threat to national security and public interest? You (CBI) have to show the court this," justice Bhatkar said.
"After hearing the CBI's submissions and perusing the documents, this court is of the prima facie view that there may be misuse of the funds received for personal use by the applicant accused. However, I am unable to find out any threat to the security, sovereignty and integrity of the nation or public interest," the court said.
It added that a citizen may conduct social activities and may have a different point of view which may not be liked by the government.
"However, in a democratic state, a citizen can have his or her own point of view and it is the duty of the government to protect this view. A dissenting view cannot be said to be against the sovereignty of the government. It may be against the policy of the state," the court said.
While granting the duo anticipatory bail, the court said if they are arrested then they shall be released immediately after furnishing surety of Rs 20,000.
The CBI while opposing the petitions argued that Teesta and her husband had committed an offence that amounted to a threat to national security and public interest and their custodial interrogation was required.
The HC, however, was not satisfied with the investigating agency's arguments, and said the couple's custodial interrogation was not required.
The court further queried if Teesta and her husband had followed its earlier order of July 24 when the HC had, while granting them interim protection from arrest, directed them to appear before the CBI on four days for recording their statement. CBI counsel Anil Singh told the court that the duo had attended CBI office, but were not cooperating with the investigation.
"They (Teesta and Anand) just come and give vague answers. They do not tell us where the money has gone. They are not providing the account books of the trust. Only the applicants can give CBI information about the trust and the money. CBI cannot take this information from a third party and hence custodial interrogation is required," Singh said.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, appearing for Teesta and Anand, argued that the CBI during its search at the activist's residence had taken into its custody all original documents pertaining to the trust and its accounts.
"The amount received from the foreign company was not donation and was payment in lieu of services provided to it. The company had deducted TDS from the amount. The TDS certificated were produced before the Income Tax department by Teesta. Since the amount was not donation, it cannot be considered under the FCRA," Chinoy said.
The CBI had on July 8 registered a case against Teesta and Anand alleging that her firm Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Limited (SCPPL) received around 2.90 lakh USD in foreign donations, in violation of FCRA.
According to the agency, SCPPL was not registered under FCRA for collecting money from abroad and the amount of nearly Rs 1.8 crore ($2.90 lakh) was, therefore, received in violation of the Act as the organisation needed to seek prior approval from the Union home ministry.
Setalvad alleged that the FIR registered against her and her husband was for the purpose of harassing and torturing them, a charge rejected by CBI.