A Delhi court on Monday dismissed after a marathon two-hour hearing the bail applications of Zee Group editors Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, who have been charged with trying to extort Rs100 crore from Congress MP Naveen Jindal's steel company.
“Investigation is at a preliminary stage. It [the bail applications] was earlier dismissed by the duty metropolitan magistrate on November 28 and there is no change of facts and circumstances in this case. No fresh ground has arisen since then. Hence, in my considered opinion, it is being dismissed,” metropolitan magistrate Rajinder Singh said.
Chaudhary, Zee News editor, and Ahluwalia, Zee Business editor, were arrested on November 27 by the crime branch of the Delhi police on a complaint by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL). They were sent to 14 days in judicial custody on November 30. This is the second time the duo has been denied bail. They were earlier denied bail on November 28, a day after their arrest.
The bail hearing was to take place on December 1 but had to be postponed because of the absence of the investigating officer and the public prosecutor, both of whom offered unconditional apologies to the court today.
Senior lawyer RK Handoo said, “The court has denied bail on preliminary technical grounds and not gone into the merits of the case.”
The Zee Group issued a statement saying denial of bail to the editors was denial of justice and would continue to hamper the freedom of the press. It said the case would divert attention from the findings of the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) in the Rs1.86 lakh crore coal block allocation scandal. JSPL is alleged to be one of the main beneficiaries of the scam.
Meanwhile, Handoo, who is Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra's lawyer, wrote to the Delhi police to say Chandra would cancel prior engagements to join the investigation. He said mischief-makers were planting stories that Chandra was avoiding the probe when the fact was that he had prior engagements abroad that were decided two months in advance, making it tough for him to make himself available at short notice.
During the hearing on the bail applications, special public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan argued that the accused had no right to move a fresh bail plea as a similar application had been dismissed by a magistrate on November 28 when they were first remanded in police custody for two days.
Advocate Rebecca John, appearing for the editors, vehemently opposed this contention, saying there was no bar on seeking bail for her clients under any provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). "I have full right to move court for bail as the law is bail, not jail," she said.
She said, "The CAG report which was aired by Zee News was a constitutional body's report tabled in Parliament. As a channel editor of the Zee Group, it was my client's responsibility to put forth the truth."
Rebecca John said the editors had decided to air the news showing the Jindal firm's alleged involvement in the allocation of coal blocks only as per the findings of the CAG report. "As a journalist, it was my editor's right to show the corruption. Was it a police right to register an FIR against them?" she asked. "I [the Zee editors] did pick and choose. Does it become a criminal offence? Has the CAG raised an objection that we have shown a false report?"
The two journalists face charges of extortion and criminal conspiracy. The maximum punishment for the first charge is three years in prison and/or a fine. For criminal conspiracy, the punishment is jail for up to six months and/or a fine.