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Delhi High Court junks circular that grounded Rana Ayyub

HC directed her to deposit an FDR of Rs 1 lakh with the ED and said she shall not attempt to tamper with evidence or influence witnesses in any manner
Rana Ayyub.
Rana Ayyub.
File photo

PTI   |   New Delhi   |   Published 05.04.22, 03:16 AM

Delhi High Court on Monday quashed a lookout circular issued against journalist Rana Ayyub by the Enforcement Directorate and allowed her to travel abroad, saying the notice was issued in “haste” and there was no cogent reason for presuming that she would not appear before the investigating agency.

The high court said a circular was a coercive measure to make a person surrender and, as a consequence, interfered with the petitioner’s right to personal liberty and free movement.


“It is to be issued in cases where the accused is deliberately evading summons/ arrest or where such person fails to appear in court despite a non-bailable warrant.

“In the instant case, there is no contradiction by the respondent (ED) to the submission of the petitioner (Ayyub) that she has appeared on each and every date before the investigating agency when summoned, and hence, there is no cogent reason for presuming that the petitioner would not appear before the investigation agency and hence, no case is made out for issuing the impugned circular,” Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said in a six-page order.

The court said it was evident that the circular had been issued in haste and in the absence of any condition necessitating such a measure.

It said the circular was liable to be set aside as being “devoid of merits” as well as for “infringing the human right” of Ayyub to travel abroad and to exercise her “freedom of speech and expression”.

“For the reasons discussed above, the impugned LOC (lookout circular) is set aside and quashed. However, a balance has to be struck qua the right of the investigation agency to investigate the instant matter as well as the fundamental right of the petitioner of movement and free speech,” the court said.

The court allowed the journalist’s petition seeking quashing the circular and imposed various conditions on her, including that she shall intimate her travel dates and detailed itinerary to the ED forthwith along with the addresses of the places she shall be visiting.

The court directed Ayyub to deposit an FDR of Rs 1 lakh with the ED in Mumbai

and said she shall not attempt to tamper with evidence or influence witnesses in any manner.

“The petitioner shall return to India on the date specified, that is, April 11, 2022, and the petitioner shall give the undertaking to appear before the investigation agency immediately on her return and on dates that might be fixed by the investigating agency for interrogation, if any, after the travel period,” it said.

The court’s order came on Ayyub’s plea seeking to quash the circular issued against her barring her from travelling abroad.

The plea was opposed by the ED, which alleged that she was involved in a serious offence regarding funds involving over Rs 1 crore and that there was an apprehension that she might not return to India.

Additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju and lawyer Amit Mahajan, representing the ED, contended that the journalist had misappropriated funds collected in the name of relief work and that she had submitted fake bills to siphon off the money raised.

During the hearing, the judge asked the ED: “How do you defend your LOC? It is an admitted fact that whenever a summons was issued, she replied and she appeared before officers. How do you say that she is avoiding investigation? Because for LOC, evidence should be satisfactory.”

The ASG said a person who wanted to flee the country would always say she would come back.

“Look at her conduct. Despite repeated summons, documents have not been supplied. Fake bills have been provided. According to us, prima facie there is a case of cheating. The cooperation part is missing and appearance before the agency is not cooperation,” Raju argued.

The court responded: “If a person is appearing before the agency and the agency says that the person is appearing but she is not cooperating, what is the yardstick to show that? If there is non-cooperation then why don’t you arrest her?”

Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Ayyub, submitted that the documents were already there with the ED’s Mumbai office and the entire credit card statement was also there.

Asked by the court whether Ayyub’s bank account had been frozen by the agency, the ASG replied in the affirmative and said “now we want her to sit with us. Our case is money has not been used for Covid relief.”

Ayyub was detained at Mumbai airport by the Bureau of Immigration on March 29, when she was supposed to travel to London to attend a conference.

Her plea said that on March 29, she arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, to board a flight to London to attend events on the global problem of cyber attacks on women journalists, as well as to deliver a keynote speech on the status of journalism in India.

Immigration officials told her they had instructions from the ED to not allow her to board the flight and the immigration stamp on her passport was marked as “cancelled”.

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