A Delhi Court on Tuesday granted bail to 22-year old climate activist Disha Ravi, who was arrested by the Delhi police from her Bengaluru residence on February 13 in the farmers protest 'toolkit' case.
"Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence on record, I do not find any palpable reason to deny bail", Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana of Patiala House Court Complex noted in the order granting bail.
The order says the evidence on record by the prosecution is not sufficient to keep a 22 year old in custody. The court also noted that Ravi has no criminal antecedents.
The Court granted her bail on condition to furnish personal bond of Rupees one lakh and two sureties of Rupees One Lakh each. Although Ravi's lawyer Advocate Abhinav Sekhri made a request for reducing the surety amount as Rs 50,000, the Court did not agree.
She was also produced today before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate as her police custody period was expiring today. The ACMM Pankaj Sharma disposed of the application seeking 4-day police custody pending the confirmation of bail.
Orders were reserved on Ravi's bail application on February 20.
Some relevant observations from the order are given below
Creation of toolkit not an offence
"In my considered opinion creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless. Further, it is rightly pointed out by Ld Defence Counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police therefore there is nothing wrong in co-accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march. Still further, the attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies"
Nothing on record to suggest Disha Ravi subscribed to any secessionist idea
"It would be worthwhile to observe that there is nothing on recordto suggest that the applicant accused subscribed to any secessionist idea"
"Further, the prosecution has, except for pointing out thata pplicant/accused forwarded the toolkit to Ms. Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the applicant/accused gave global audience to the'secessionist elements'"
"It is further highlighted that the applicant/accused along with her associates under the pretext of protesting against the farm laws have resolved to vandalize Indian Embassies and specifically attack symbols of India i.e. Yoga and Chai. Except for a bare assertion, no evidence has been brought to my notice to support the contention that any violence took place at any of the Indian Embassies pursuant to the sinister designs of the applicant/accused and her co-conspirators"
'Propitious Anticipations Cannot Restrict Personal Liberty
"I am conscious of the fact that it is very difficult to collect evidence for the offence of conspiracy but I'm equally conscious of the fact that what is difficult to prove for the prosecution in the affirmative is virtually impossible for the defence to prove in the negative. I'm also conscious of the fact that the investigation is at a nascent stage and police is in the process of collecting more evidence, however, the investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations"
Resistance to bail plea mere ornamental
"The applicant accused is already reported to have been interrogated in police custody for almost about five days and placing any further restraint upon her liberty on the basis of general and omnibus accusation would be neither logical nor legal. No specific article, sought to be recovered from the possession of the accused, has been brought to my notice. The resistance to the bail plea seems to be more of ornamental in nature".
No Call for violence in toolkit
"The perusal of the said 'Toolkit' reveals that any call for any kindof violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies".
"The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments".
"The imputations may be false,exaggerated or even with a mischievous intent but the same cannot be stigmatized being seditious unless they have tendency to foment violence".
"Difference of opinion,disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity instate policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.This 5000 years old civilization of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters. The following couplet in Rig Veda embodies our cultural ethos expressing our respect for divergent opinions".
Right to freedom of speech and expression includes right to seek global opinion
"The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication. A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad".
Mere engagement with people of dubious credentials not offence
"In my considered opinion, it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpablity. Any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social intercourse. As long as the engagement/interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons,ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue. In the absence of any evidence to the effect that the applicant/accused agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on 26.01.2021 with the founders of PJF, it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on 26.01.2021, simply because she shared a platform with people, who have gathered to oppose the legislation. There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on 26.01.2021 with the said PJF or the applicant/accused".
Highlights from the hearing
"What exactly is the evidence collected by you against this lady connecting her to the violence perpetuated on Jan 26?Is there any evidence, or are required to merely work on surmises, conjectures?", the judge had asked during bail hearing.
The prosecution submitted that the 'toolkit', which came to public domain after it was shared by international climate activist Greta Thunberg in Twitter, was created by Disha Ravi in association with organizations having Khalistani leanings. It was alleged that Ravi had attended Zoom meetings with members of "Poetic Justice Foundation", an organization alleged to have Khalistani links. Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, who appeared for the Delhi police, alleged that the 'toolkit' was part of an international conspiracy to malign India by using the garb of farmers protests, and that the same was linked to the violence which took place in the national capital on the Republic Day during the tractor parade by protesting farmers.
The ASG also submitted that there was a need to confront Disha with the co-accused Advocate Nikita Jacob and activist Shantanu Muluk.
Refuting the police allegations, Advocate Siddharth Agarwal, appearing for Ravi, submitted that the 'toolkit' was merely a document for organizing peaceful protests and mobilize a social media campaign against the farmers laws. He submitted that there was no evidence to link the 'toolkit' to the January 26 violence.
"If the offence is that I protested peacefully, I'm guilty! If the offence is that I advertised about this peaceful protest, I'm guilty. If this is the parameter, I'm definitely guilty
For instance, if there is yoga. And I prefer kung fu over yoga. Will I become a Chinese spy? I'm not saying this. It's in their FIR. We're reducing the bar of someone having a different point of view. Their allegations in the FIR state that I have attacked chai and yoga. Is this the parameter for sedition?", Agarwal submitted.
Agarwal submitted that there is no evidence to indicate that the Toolkit was responsible for anything. Their case is that when they read the Toolkit they have certain feelings invoked.
"Their case is that whatever has happened anywhere in the world is because of this Toolkit. In Rome, some graffiti was stuck on the embassy, or on the Red Fort a flag hoisted, their case is that it's all because of the Toolkit...It merely tells people to come forward, join the march and go back home...This march was permitted by the Delhi Police. It was on the basis of this that people came forward", he argued.
"If I sent or encouraged people to take part in this march, I become seditious?They were asked to make representations to government offices, is this sedition?
The toolkit talks about digital strike, this doesn't mean the Gulf Strike. Physical action called for in Embassies, Ambani, Adani offices - doesn't mean throwing stones. These are tools for people to express their feelings across the globe".
Yesterday, a Delhi Magistrate had remanded Disha Ravi to one-day police custody. After her arrest from Bengaluru, she was remanded to 5-day police custody by a Delhi Magistrate on February 14. Later, on February 19, she was remanded to 3-day judicial custody.
Can imputation be made against a person for association with another organization? Court asks ASG
During the hearing, the Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana asked :
"To satisfy my judicial conscience, I need you to answer, if I am a person emotionally attached to a particular movement/cause, and for the same I get involved with persons who have different methods without being aware can the same imputation be made against this person also?"
"If I've approached a dacoity for donations, can the imputation of dacoity be invoked against me also?", the judge further asked.
The ASG replied that the the larger conpiracy angle must be seen and that in a conspiracy, everyone may not have an equal role. When a person closely associates with persons of dubious credentials, like Dhaliwal of PJF, it must be presumed that the person was aware of the same.
"Your Honour would appreciate that this needs to be read in the background that people were asked to move to Delhi - for hoisting of the Khalistani flag, etc. Your Honour would need to look at this in that background. It is not merely asking people to come to Delhi", the ASG submitted.
"This is not a simple Toolkit, if one were to look at the background, it would be clear that these are persons connected to the Khalistani movement - one is presumed to know this", the ASG continued.
The ASG also emphasized that Disha tried to cover up the tracks by deleting evidence.
"My query is...is there any evidence, or are we required to merely work on surmises, conjectures?", the judge asked.
Ravi has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court aggrieved by the media reportage about her. On February 19, a bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh observed that media should exercise editorial discretion to avoid sensationalism which could hamper the investigation in the case. The bench also directed the Delhi Police to ensure that no media leakage happens in compliance with the stand taken by it in its affidavit.