By: Radhakrishna NS
A DELHI COURT on Thursday (3) extended till October 17 the judicial custody of P Chidambaram giving no respite to the former finance minister who has been in CBI’s custody and in jail for six weeks in the INX Media corruption case even as he moved the Supreme Court for bail.
But in some relief to the 74-year-old Congress leader, Special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar allowed him to have home cooked food in Tihar jail after noting from medical records he is suffering from multiple ailments including inflammation of his digestive tract.
Seeking bail, Chidambaram told the apex court that courts should frown upon the attempt of the prosecution to use judicial custody as a kind of “pre-trial punishment”, asserting liberty of an individual cannot be denied on the basis of “anonymous and unverified allegations”.
Citing “frail” health, Chidambaram also said he is not “accustomed” to food given to him in the jail and has lost four kilograms kg weight during judicial custody.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, mentioned the bail petition for urgent listing before a bench of justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari.
The bench told him that the matter will be placed before Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and he would decide on its listing. The matter has since been listed for Friday.
Since his arrest on August 21, Chidambaram till Thursday has spent 42 days in custody, both the CBI and judicial, in eight spells.
He was sent to Tihar jail for the first time on September 5 till September 19, when his custody was extended till October 3.
“The investigation is still pending. It is informed that the bail application of the accused has been dismissed by the Delhi High Court on September 30. Considering the facts mentioned in the application and that there is no change in the circumstances as noted in the earlier orders, the judicial remand of the accused is extended till October 17,” said judge Kuhar.
The court clarified that the concession for home food shall not be taken as a precedent as it was being given in peculiar facts and circumstances and keeping Chidambaram’s medical condition in mind.
The court directed the Tihar jail superintendent to take care of Chidambaram’s safety and security and to ensure that the food received from home is duly checked and then supplied to him.
“From the medical record shown by the applicant (Chidambaram), it is apparent that the applicant is suffering from multiple ailments. He is 74 years of age. He is suffering from inflammation of his digestive tract. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the agency, submitted that he has no objection to Chidambaram being provided with home cooked food.
“In these circumstances, it may be conducive to his health condition that he is provided home cooked food once a day to avoid any further deterioration in his health condition,” the judge noted.
Challenging the Delhi High Court’s September 30 verdict rejecting his bail plea, Chidambaram told the apex court he had never attempted to approach or influence any witnesses or accused in the case.
The high court had dismissed his bail plea saying the investigation was at an advanced stage and the possibility of his influencing the witnesses cannot be ruled out.
“Bail is the rule, jail is the exception. Arrest and custody are a humiliation and social stigma. The prosecution seems to think that prolonged judicial custody is a punishment they can impose on the petitioner. Courts should frown upon the attempt of the prosecution to use judicial custody as a kind of pre-trial punishment.”
He has urged the apex court to grant him interim bail till his appeal is decided.
The CBI registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 3.05 billion in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.
Chidambaram, a former union home minister, said the high court has “erred” in dismissing his bail plea on a mere apprehension that he might influence the witnesses, without any supporting material, and on the basis of unverified allegations that do not allege or point anything against him.
He also denied the high court’s finding that INX Media’s former promoters Indrani and Peter Mukherjea had met him and “illegal gratification” was paid.
Chidambaram has further said the case does not relate to “economic offence” and there is no loss to public exchequer.
He also denied the high court’s finding that large amount of money had come into the companies owned or controlled by alleged co-conspirator and his son Karti Chidambaram.