New Delhi: A Delhi court on Monday dismissed the bail plea of two Zee News editors facing charges of extortion bid against Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal's Jindal Steel Power Limited (JSPL). The duo, Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, was accused by Jindal of trying to extort Rs 100 crore from the company to not air negative stories over its alleged involvement in the coal blocks allocations controversy.
Metropolitan Magistrate Rajinder Singh dismissed the bail pleas saying Zee News head Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business Editor Samir Ahluwalia have not given any new ground for their release on bail in the fresh application after dismissal of their first ones on November 28. "Investigation is at a preliminary stage and there is no change of facts and circumstances since November 28 and the bail application had been dismissed by the duty magistrate earlier on November 28....and no fresh ground have come up to release them on bail. Hence, in my considered opinion, the bail (plea) is dismissed," the court said.
"The dismissal of bail application does preclude the accused from moving successive bail applications," it added. During the hearing on the bail applications, Special Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan argued that the accused persons have no right to move a fresh bail plea as their similar applications had been dismissed by a magistrate on November 28 when they were first remanded in police custody for two days.
Mohan argued the two editors should not be given bail as they were involved in criminally extorting money from Jindal Steel and Power Limited and have also abused the freedom of speech and expression granted to the press under Article 19 of the Constitution. He said the accused have already filed their bail plea under section 437 of CrPC at an earlier stage and therefore, the second bail plea is not maintainable and should be dismissed.
He said they have been booked for non-bailable offences and hence cannot be released on bail.
Advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Zee editors, vehemently opposed the prosecutor's arguments saying there is absolutely no embargo that stops her from seeking bail for her clients under any provisions of the CrPC. "I have full right to move court for bail as the law is bail not jail," she said adding the agency is doing an "absurd" job by opposing the bail on such grounds.
She said, "The CAG report which was aired by Zee news was a constitutional body report tabled in the Parliament. As a channel editor of Zee group, it was my client's responsibility to put forth the truth." John said that the editors had decided to run news showing Jindal's 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 (Zee editors) did pick and choose, does it become a criminal offence?" she said and added, "Has the CAG raised objection that we have shown a false report? It is not like that, we did our job."
She argued that it was Jindal's representative who had met the Zee editors for the deal and they themselves had never went up to them. She told the court that this can be inferred from the e-mail received by Sudhir Chaudhary, in which JSPL officials had asked for the advertisement agreement as soon as possible.
She said she failed to understand as to who had been induced and who had been put under fear in the whole episode, adding there is no prima facie evidence to book them under extortion as there was no exchange of money. Seeking bail for the two editors, the counsel said they have been booked for offences, which carry a maximum jail term of one and a half year.
With additional information from PTI