Can allegation of breach of privacy be ground for bail? SC asks suspended IAS officer Pooja Singhal

 The Supreme Court on Monday asked suspended Jharkhand cadre IAS officer Pooja Singhal, an accused in a money laundering case, whether the allegation of breach of her privacy can be a ground to grant her bail.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Singhal, told a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia that her privacy was breached when photographs of her room were leaked while she was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Ranchi.

“My client has been in custody for over 200 days and she is in judicial custody. She was taken to hospital for some ailment and while she was meeting her family members, the pictures were taken and leaked to the media. One newspaper published it. This is a breach of her privacy,” Luthra said.

Justice Kaul said allegations against her are “very serious” and the court cannot consider granting her bail at this juncture.

Luthra then submitted some documents and pictures which were allegedly leaked to media. The lawyer said Singhal is in custody in an Enforcement Directorate case and the anti-money laundering agency alone can tell how the pictures got leaked.

“Your ground is that there was breach of her privacy while in judicial custody but does that entitle you to bail?” Justice Dhulia asked her lawyer.

Luthra said there are other grounds for grant of bail as well and he is only trying to bring to the knowledge of the court the recent incident of breach of privacy.

Advocate Zoheb Hossain, appearing for ED, asserted there was no breach of privacy and the pictures in question were from CCTV footage where Singhal can be seen roaming around in the hospital corridor.

“She has such clout that she meets family members at odd visiting hours and roams around in the corridor,” he said.

The bench then asked Hossain to apprise the court about the number of witnesses that have been examined and those who are still to be examined. He told the court four witnesses have been examined and the examination of 19 was pending. There are 33 witnesses in the case.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on October 30 and asked Additional Solicitor General SV Raju and Hossain to give it the list of key witnesses.

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Raju said the ED would like to file a response to Singhal’s plea. He claimed her medical records, which have been attached to the petition, are illegible and need to be verified independently.

On February 10, the top court had granted Singhal interim bail for two months to enable her to take care of her ailing daughter.

Singhal has been in custody since May 11, 2022 after raids were conducted at properties linked to her in connection with the money laundering case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate. The case relates to alleged corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA, the Centre’s flagship scheme for rural employment.

The ED has accused Singhal, a former state mines department secretary, of money laundering and said its team seized more than Rs 36 crore cash linked to alleged illegal mining as part of two separate money laundering investigations.

Apart from the 2000-batch IAS officer, her businessman husband, a chartered accountant associated with the couple, and others were also raided by the ED as part of the money laundering probe.

Singhal was suspended following her arrest.

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