SC raises privacy concerns on bail condition to share accused’s location
The Supreme Court was dealing with an appeal filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the high court order of February 8, 2023
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine the Delhi high court’s order that required an accused to keep sharing his movement details with the investigating officer every 8 hours as a condition for bail.
“We want to know if this condition allowing the investigating officer (IO) to track the Google pin of the person on bail can satisfy as a bail condition,” a bench of justices AS Oka and Pankaj Mithal said.
The court was dealing with an appeal filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the high court order of February 8, 2023, that granted bail to Raman Bhuraria, an accused in the ₹3,200 crore money laundering case involving Shakti Bhog Foods Limited (SBFL).
Advocate Arshdeep Singh Khurana appearing for Bhuraria said, “as per the high court’s (bail) order, I need to drop my Google pin location every 8 hours.”
When ED sought to defend this bail condition, the bench said it would take up this aspect and asked the federal agency to file its response. The court will next take up the case on December 12.
The bench told ED to indicate the “practical effect” of imposing this condition on a person’s right to privacy, declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in its 9-judge bench ruling of 2017 in Justice KS Puttaswamy v Union of India.
“Once a person is set at liberty with the grant of bail, will such a condition not infringe the right to privacy of the individual? You must tell us what the practical effect will be on a person’s privacy by having this condition,” the bench told ED.
Incidentally, another bench of the Supreme Court in July this year had imposed a similar bail condition on two accused, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. In its July 28 order, a bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia said: “During this period, that is the period during which they remain on bail, both the appellants shall keep the location status of their mobile phones active, 24 hours a day and their phones shall be paired with that of the Investigating Officer of the NIA to enable him, at any given time, to identify the appellants’ exact location.”
According to the condition contained in the bail granted by the high court to Raman Bhuraria, “The applicant shall drop a Google pin location from his mobile phone to the IO concerned which shall be kept operational throughout his bail.”
In defence of this condition, ED cited US court decisions where such conditions have been imposed considering the larger interest of securing justice in serious crimes. Advocate Zoheb Hossain appearing for ED told the Court that the right to privacy judgment delivered by the top court cited these decisions.
Hossain said that as in the earlier days, a person on bail was required to report to the nearest police station every week or fortnight. Similarly, he added, the same is sought to be achieved by the HC order using technology as an aid to keep track of the accused’s movements.
Bhuraria was an internal auditor of SBFL for the financial year 2008-09 to 2013-14 and a statutory auditor of the company for 2006-07. He was arrested in August 2021 by ED during its probe against the company and its promoter Kewal Krishan Kumar for defaulting on loans taken from a consortium of banks led by the State Bank of India (SBI) to the tune of ₹3269.42 crore.