Justice Revati Mohite Dere on April 26 granted anticipatory bail to Poonam Agarwal, a journalist with The Quint website and retired soldier and war veteran Deepchand Singh.
Last month, the Deolali Camp police in Nashik registered a case against Agarwal and Singh under various sections of the Indian Penal Code including abetting the suicide of the jawan from Kerala, Roy Mathew.
The journalist was also booked under sections 3 (spying) and 7 (interfering with officers of the police or members of the armed forces of union) of the Official Secrets Act, charges that journalists organisations have described as completely inappropriate.
According to police, she was booked for violating army rules by entering prohibited areas and conducting a shoot there.
Agarwal is accused of entering Heig Lines in Deolali camp without the permission of authorities and filming the premises, besides carrying out a hidden camera interview of Mathew and other jawans on February 24 in which she is said to have asked leading questions.
The case was registered after Mathew (33) was found hanging from the ceiling of a room in an abandoned barrack in Deolali cantonment here on March 2.
According to the police, Mathew featured in the story carried by The Quint exposing the ‘buddy’ (sahayak) system in the army and subsequently committed suicide over fear and shame.
Agarwal and Singh approached the high court after a sessions court rejected their anticipatory bail pleas.
Senior counsel Amit Desai, appearing for Agarwal, argued that the sting operation was carried out in public interest and to expose the malaise in the Indian army.
The high court after hearing the arguments said, “After viewing the said clip, it appears that the purpose of the sting operation was to show that the sahayaks were made to do menial work like taking their seniors’ dogs for walks, taking their seniors’ children to schools and so on.”
“Prima facie at this stage, taking the prosecution case as it stands it is doubtful whether any offence under IPC or Official Secrets Act is attracted in the peculiar facts of the case,” Dere said.
“Merely because the sting operation was done in a prohibited area would not automatically attract provision of the Official Secrets Act,” the court said.
The court granted Agarwal and Singh anticipatory bail on a surety of Rs 25,000 and directed them to appear before the police on three days – May 2, May 3 and May 4 for recording their statement and questioning.
The court also directed Agarwal to surrender to the police raw footage of the sting operation.
Mathew had joined the army 13 years ago and was working as an artillery gunner with the Rocket Regiment 214 in Nashik camp for the last one year.