Mumbai, February 18: The Bombay High Court Wednesday granted three-week transit anticipatory bail to advocate and activist Nikita Jacob, against whom a non-bailable warrant was issued in Delhi in the Greta Thunberg toolkit case.
Ordering bail for Jacob on a Rs 25,000 personal bond and sureties, in the case registered by the Delhi Police Special Cell, the Bench noted, “This protection is granted for a period of three weeks from today (Wednesday) to enable the applicant to approach the competent court for seeking appropriate relief”, The Indian Express reported.
On Tuesday, the Aurangabad Bench of the High Court had granted 10-day transit pre-arrest bail to activist Shantanu Muluk, against whom a warrant has been issued in Delhi in the same case.
Issuing the non-bailable warrants against Jacob and Muluk, who are associated with the UK-based NGO Extinction Rebellion, the Delhi Police had accused them of creating the toolkit on the farmers’ protest that had been tweeted by Thunberg.
Referring to Desai’s submissions about the recording of her statement by the Delhi Police and seizure of her mobile and laptop said, the Bombay High Court said Wednesday that this indicated that “the applicant has made herself available”.
“The apprehension (of Jacob, regarding arrest) is fortified by the fact that (the) non-bailable warrant was issued in Delhi thereafter,” the court said in its order. Referring to past judgments by the Supreme Court and various High Courts, it said, “In light of them, protection can be granted to applicant for temporary period.”
Representing the Delhi Police’s Cyber Cell unit, advocate Hiten Venegaonkar challenged Jacob’s plea and submitted that the offence had been registered in Delhi, and there was no cause for action in the jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court to grant anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC.
Noting that Jacob had been booked under IPC Sections 124(A) for sedition, 153(A) for promoting enmity between groups, and 120(B) for criminal conspiracy, the Delhi Police referred to past judgments such as in the 2013 Sandeep Lohariya case by the Supreme Court, which had questioned the concept of transit pre-arrest bail.
The Delhi Police also submitted that while, on February 11, when it had recovered some material from Jacob’s residence, she was present and had recorded her statement, she had gone missing thereafter. “We investigated and interrogated her. After sunset, we could not have further interrogated her,” Venegaonkar said, adding that when they turned up the next day, she was “absconding”.
Appearing for Jacob, senior counsel Mihir Desai said his client, having practised in the High Court for nearly six-seven years, apprehended arrest and had therefore filed for transitory bail on February 12.
The plea was maintainable as ‘territorial jurisdiction’ cannot be a ground while considering transitory pre-arrest bail, Desai said. He also reminded the High Court of its recent order granting three-week transit pre-arrest bail to the makers of the Tandav web series and a creative head of Amazon Prime, to enable them to approach for relief a court in Lucknow where a complaint against them had been lodged.
At the hearing on Tuesday, the single-judge Bench of Justice P D Naik said that while he would not decide on the merits of the case and would pass an order only on maintainability of Jacob’s plea as per the CrPC, “but to understand the nature of the offence a little background is necessary”. In light of this, Justice Naik noted in his order Wednesday, “Since the applicant would be ultimately approaching (the) competent court (which will deal with merits of the case), it would not be appropriate for me to make observations on the merits of the case.”
Desai said that Jacob was a lawyer who supports environmental causes, and had nothing to do with Khalistan (one of the lines of the Delhi Police investigation). Desai also said that the toolkit Jacob was alleged to have created “does not talk about any violence or taking over of Red Fort etc”, and had been prepared only to support farmers.
Desai added that of the nearly 50 persons named in the case, the Delhi Police had alleged one to be Khalistani. “He belongs to some organisation called the Poetic Justice Foundation. And how will one know that the person is Khalistani? It is not a banned organisation under the UAPA,” the counsel said.
Earlier, Jacob’s lawyer told the court, “The applicant has no religious, political or financial motive or agenda for researching, discussing, editing and circulating communication packs/toolkits for raising awareness, let alone to incite violence, riots or/and cause other physical harms.”
Jacob also said trolls and bots were circulating her personal information, including pictures, on social media. And said she had learnt from social media sources that an entity by the name of Legal Rights Observatory appeared to have filed a “false and baseless” complaint with the Delhi Police, seeking to “pin the blame” for the violence in the Capital on January 26 on her, among others.
The Delhi Police argued that Jacob was part of a larger group formed in December to support the farmers’ protest, and that “This toolkit document was created much earlier before the ‘riot’ happened in Delhi, mentioning step by step what action needs to be taken. Authorship lies with Disha Ravi and two others… with affiliations to the Khalistani movement.”