A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said Khera will be produced before the competent magistrate in Delhi and released on interim bail.
Live: Khera gets SC relief
“In order to protect the petitioner (Khera) until he applies for regular bail before the jurisdictional courts in relation to all the FIRs, we direct that till the next date of listing, the petitioner shall be released on interim bail by the court of competent magistrate in Delhi,” said the bench, also comprising Justices M R Shah and P S Narasimha.
“The above order will remain operational till Tuesday (February 28),” the bench said and listed the matter for hearing on February 27.
The apex court also issued notices to Assam and Uttar Pradesh seeking their responses to Khera’s plea for transferring and clubbing together three separate FIRs lodged against him in both the states. There is one FIR against him in Assam at Haflong, while two in the Uttar Pradesh cities of Lucknow and Varanasi for his alleged offensive remarks against the prime minister.
On February 17, the Congress spokesperson had reportedly mocked Prime Minister Modi’s late father, calling him ‘Narendra Gautam Das Modi’, taking a jibe over the Adani-Hindenburg row.
After dictating the order, however, the CJI told Khera’s lawyer, senior advocate A M Singhvi, “We have protected you (Khera) but there has to be some level of discourse.”
The bench said it is inclined to entertain the plea on the limited issue of whether the FIRs should be clubbed or not, adding such a course of action has been adopted in journalist Arnab Goswami’s case earlier.
Soon after the news about Khera’s detention broke, Singhvi had mentioned the matter for urgent listing at 2pm before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Chandrachud which was hearing the Maharashtra Shiv Sena matter. The CJI assured him a bench will take up the matter at 3pm.
During the hearing, Singhvi told the court that Khera had already acknowledged the same day that the remarks made at a press conference in Mumbai were a mistake and apologised. He said the offences alleged against him did not require arrest. “It will have straightaway impact on the latitude of free speech,” Singhvi said, adding, “This should not have led to arrest. The offences entail maximum sentence of three or five years and no prior notice was served upon him.”
Singhvi said the FIRs have been lodged under sections including 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
The bench noted Singhvi’s submission that the words used by Khera do not attract penal provisions of offences which have been invoked against him.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Assam police, played the audio-video clip of Khera’s remarks, in the open court and said the Congress leader cannot use such “derogatory words” against a democratically elected prime minister of the country.
Terming it a “calculated statement”, Bhati told the court that Khera has been arrested and will be produced before a competent magistrate during the day for transit remand.
When Singhvi pointed out that Khera has already apologised for his remarks, Bhati said, “Please see the video whether it is a mistake or a deliberate act. It is the demeanour which counts. There was laughter all around after these remarks.”
“The entire press conference has to be seen … It is a very calculated statement. It is a statement which not just insults the prime minister but invites disaffection and disloyalty. After all, he is the duly elected prime minister of the largest democracy in the world,” Bhati said.
The bench asked Singhvi whether he was pressing for the prayer of quashing of the FIRs at this stage. Singhvi responded in the negative.
“I myself have been doing TV for more than 20 years now and I personally feel these words should not have been spoken at all,” Singhvi told the bench.
High tarmac drama at Delhi airport
Earlier in the day, Congress leaders and workers protested at the IGI Airport, alleging that this was an attempt to disrupt the plenary similar to the ED raids in Chhattisgarh. Congress leaders accompanying him sat on the tarmac in protest and resisted efforts to take him away without an arrest warrant.
Meanwhile, passengers on the Delhi-Raipur flight were also asked to deboard by the Indigo staff, with the airline saying they will be put on another flight.
Khera alleged that he was first asked to deboard after being told that there was an issue with his luggage. “I was told there is a problem with your luggage, even though I only have one handbag. When I came down from the flight, it was told that you cannot go. Then it was said – DCP will meet you. I’ve been waiting for a long time. There is no trace of rules, laws and reasons.”
Senior Delhi police officers later handed over a document from their Assam counterpart seeking their help in arresting Khera.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala accompanied Khera to a police station at the airport where there was a huge deployment of CISF.
The Congress later tweeted that first ED was sent to Chhattisgarh, then Khera, who was going to attend the party’s plenary session, was stopped from boarding the flight. “This dictatorship will not be tolerated at all. We will fight and win,” wrote Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.
In the evening, Ramesh also held a press conference saying, the day saw the vindictive politics of the Modi government. “@Pawankhera 3 FIRs have been registered towards (him) in Lucknow, Varanasi and Assam. At the moment, if there’s a want to arrest any opposition chief, then the CM of Assam turns into very lively,” the Congress’s Twitter deal with quoted him pronouncing, including a an identical FIR was once lodged towards Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani.
Ramesh stated the Modi govt attempted to derail the eighty fifth plenary consultation of the Congress by means of arresting Khera.
आज हमने मोदी सरकार की प्रतिशोध से भरी राजनीति देखी। @Pawankhera जी पर लखनऊ, वाराणसी और असम में 3 FIR दर्ज की गई।… https://t.co/BI03u5tnFf
— Congress (@INCIndia) 1677155237000
Arrest was once made lawfully: BJP
The BJP stated opposition celebration leaders will have to now not imagine themselves “above the legislation”.
Addressing the media, nationwide spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia stated that the whole lot has been achieved lawfully. “The Congress leaders will have to now not reside underneath this false impression that they’re above the legislation. The Congress is taking part in the sufferer card after the use of derogatory phrases towards High Minister Narendra Modi and his members of the family, he stated, including the leaders “flouted regulations” by means of protesting at the Delhi airport tarmac and endangering the lives of fellow passengers. “Other folks have been inconvenienced by means of the Congress’ protests. High Minister Modi enjoys the blessings of greater than 140 crore other people of the rustic and abusing him is like digging a hollow wherein the Congress will fall.”