The Supreme Court today granted regular bail to Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal in a sexual assault case filed by his colleague with a warning that it will be cancelled if he tries to tamper with evidence or influence witnesses.
A bench headed by Justice H L Dattu, however, said denying him bail would curtail his liberty and come in the way of his getting a fair trial if he remains in jail.
The bench, also comprising justice S A Bobde, which imposed stringent conditions for his release on bail, said it was not disposing Tejpal's petition and keeping it alive so that violation of any one of the conditions by him would enable Goa Police to immediately move the apex court for the recall of the bail order.
It asked the trial court judge in Goa to expeditiously complete the trial in the case, preferably within eight months from today.
The apex court did not agree with the Goa government's contention that reasonable apprehension of influencing witnesses and Tejpal's past conduct in this regard should be considered as grounds for denying him regular bail.
The bench also disagreed with Additional Solicitor General Neerak Kishan Kaul, who was appearing for Goa Police, that Tejpal should be kept in jail till the victim and four of her friends, named as prime witnesses in the case, record their testimonies in the trial court.
While opposing the bail plea, the ASG alleged that "there has been systematic attempt to attack the victim's psyche and there have been a chain of events in the past months indicating reasonable apprehension of tampering with evidence."
The Goa government opposed 51-year-old Tejpal's plea, saying the victim and her boyfriend were getting threatening emails from some phishing sites and they seemed to be under some surveillance.
The bench asked senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Tejapal, to convey to his client that any violation of the bail conditions by him directly or indirectly would invite trouble for him.
The bench noted that investigations into the case had been completed and the charge sheet filed but a speedy trial in the case was not possible as 152 witnesses have been named and the trial process would take at least three years.
The bench said Tejpal cannot be kept in jail till then, particularly after the probe has been completed and the charge sheet filed.
"He has not been convicted. He is just an accused. At the end of the day it is his freedom and he is also entitled for fair trial which also means freedom to meet his counsel," the bench said.
"If the court does not come to the rescue of this person then do you not think that liberty of the person is curtailed ?" the bench asked Goa Police which vehemently opposed regular bail for Tejpal and submitted that he should remain in jail till four key witnesses were examined.
While granting bail, the bench directed Tejpal to surrender his passport and made it clear that he would not seek any adjournment of the trial proceedings and attend the court on every assigned date.
The bench said in case there would be any urgency requiring Tejpal's absence from the trial court, his counsel would have to inform the court.
The apex court had on May 19 granted him interim bail for three weeks to enable him to attend the cremation of his mother, who died on May 18, and subsequent rituals. The interim bail was later extended twice till today.
Tejpal has been chargesheeted for allegedly raping, sexually harassing and outraging the modesty of a junior colleague during an event held at a hotel in Goa in November last year. Tejpal was arrested on November 30, 2013 and is presently out on interim bail.
He has been accused of sexually assaulting the victim on November 7 and repeating the offence the next day.
Before being released on interim bail, he was lodged at Sada sub-jail in Goa's Vasco town.