The Karnataka High Court has denied anticipatory bail to a former member of the Legislative Council and another person in an extortion case filed against them earlier this year by a civil contractor.
While refusing anticipatory bail to Srikanth L. Ghotnekar and Anil Chawhan in the case of Srikanth L. Ghotnekar and Others v. State of Karnataka (Criminal Petition no 2912/2022), a single judge bench of Honourable Justice Sunil Dutt Yadavin said, “It must be noted that while an offence under Section 506 IPC and 363 IPC are bailable, the allegation of extortion is serious.”
It continued, “The accused number one is also a former Legislative Council member. His application for anticipatory bail in another case involving other offenses, including a violation of Section 506 of the IPC, was denied. His actions do not inspire trust. In comparison to the other accused, the allegations are more serious. The police authorities’ position that he is required for custodial interrogation cannot be dismissed.”
According to the complaint filed with the Haliyal police station, the complainant is a contractor, and in the year 2021, Malanad Development Authority granted the complainant a work order to carry out certain civil works, specifically laying the slabs at Kshatriya Maratha Bhavan in Haliyal Taluk.
Accused No. 1 is the President of Kshatriya Maratha Bhavan, and he put up the slabs by collecting donations from the public. Following that, an amount of Rs.3.71 Lakhs is said to have been remitted to the complainant’s account. According to the complaint, accused no.1 demanded payment from the complainant on at least three occasions, but the complainant refused, claiming that the work had not yet been completed.
Furthermore, it is claimed that the complainant was summoned to the Maratha Bhavan in Haliyal and was threatened before being forced into the car belonging to the first accused and driven to Laxman Palace Lodge. He was surrounded and forced to write a cheque in his own handwriting in the name of accused no.2 for Rs.3,33,900/-.
Following that, a complaint was filed, and a FIR was filed in Crime No.30/2022 for the offenses punishable under Sections 506, 384, 363 r/w 149 of the IPC. The petitioner no. 1’s anticipatory bail petition was denied.
Petitioners claimed that the complainant’s version is inconsistent, and that work was done by other contractors, and that the petitioners were only seeking remittance of money because work had already been completed even though the tender was awarded to the complainant. It is argued that if the version is accepted at all, it was only a legal demand for the amount, and the rest of the story was made up by the complainant in order to make illegal gain.
While the other accused stated that they would cooperate with the investigation, the allegations made against petitioners 3, 4, and 5 (accused nos. 3, 5, and 6) do not warrant interrogation in custody.
The prosecution contended that the allegations made against petitioners 1 and 2 are serious in nature and that custodial interrogation is required insofar as the cheque is stated to have been made out in the name of the second petitioner, who has taken the cheque, and that custodial interrogation is also required for the purpose of recovery.
Furthermore, in the case of accused no.1, it is noted that petitioner no.1, who is accused no.1, was also arrayed as accused no.1 in Crime No.81/2019 for the offenses punishable under Sections 504 and 506 of the IPC r/w 3 (1) (r) and 3 (1) (s) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and that anticipatory bail application in the case of accused no.1 was rejected by order dated 15.03.20
First, the court accepted the prosecution’s contention that the car in which the complainant was driven to Laxman Palace Lodge and forced to write a cheque belonged to accused no. 1. It stated, “The car was seized during the investigation process and released by accused no.1, indicating the involvement of a vehicle belonging to accused no.1, and the allegations made against accused no.1 are serious. Acceptance of the aforementioned submission is required.”
Taking the details in the complaint and the prosecution’s submission into account, the court stated, “This court is of the opinion that petitioner no.1 cannot seek extension of discretionary order of anticipatory bail.”
“In regard to accused no.2, the contention of learned HCGP is that cheque has been drawn in the name of accused no.2 and accused no.2 has taken the cheque as is made out in the version of the complainant and accordingly, for the purpose of recovery and also in light of allegations made in the complaint regarding accused no.2, the contention that custodial interrogation is necessary cannot be said to be without basis,” it continued.
The bench then stated, “Custodial interrogation is qualitatively different from interrogation, and in light of the prosecution’s stand that custodial interrogation is required for petitioner nos.1 and 2, and in light of the discussion as made above, petition insofar as it relates to petitioner nos.1 and 2 (accused nos.1 and 2) is rejected.”
Three other co-accused were granted anticipatory bail, with the court stating, “They could be enlarged on anticipatory bail subject to their participation in the investigation by putting them on terms.”
It continued, “In comparison to the other accused, the allegations against them are not particularly serious. As a result, a case is made out to enlarge petitioner nos. 3, 4, and 5 (accused nos. 3, 5, and 6) on bail on the provision of a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh with one surety of like sum.”
The court also clarified the next steps for the police to take in light of the rejection of the accused no. 1 and 2. “All that this court would like to express is that it is for the police authorities to take an appropriate decision upon accused nos. 1 and 2 presenting themselves for interrogation, keeping in mind the directions in the case of Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar and Others reported in (2014) 8 SCC 273 as may be applicable in the present matter,” it said.