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SC refuses to cancel bail granted to Malayalam film producer Vijay Babu in sexual assault case

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New Delhi, July 6: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to cancel the anticipatory bail granted to Malayalam actor-producer Vijay Babu in an alleged rape case by the high court and asked him not to leave Kerala without prior permission. A vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari modified certain bail conditions imposed on Babu by the Kerala High Court and said that he could be interrogated by the police in connection with the case after July 3, if required.

"After hearing counsel appearing for the respective parties and after considering the pleadings and other materials on record, we are not inclined to interfere with the impugned order allowing the prayer of the Respondent No.1 (petitioner before the High Court) (Vijay Babu) for grant of pre-arrest bail", the bench said.

SC refuses to cancel bail granted to Malayalam film producer Vijay Babu in sexual assault case

The bench said that Babu may be interrogated as and when necessary, even after July 3, 2022, and he shall comply with all other conditions imposed by the High Court as also the conditions for grant of pre-arrest bail enumerated in Section 438(2) of the CrPC. The bench, which modified the conditions said, "The respondent No. 1 (i) shall not leave the State of Kerala without prior permission of the jurisdictional Court; (ii) shall appear before the Investigating Officer as and when called; (iii) shall not contact or interact with the victim or any of the witnesses".

The bench further said that Babu shall not indulge in any form of attack on the victim or her family through social media or any other mode and shall not harass, defame, denigrate or ridicule the petitioner or the members of her family in any manner whatsoever or publish or post any comments, writing, picture, etc. concerning the incidents in the social media or otherwise. It said that he shall not commit any other offence while on bail and shall not, directly or indirectly, make any inducement, threat, or promise to any person acquainted with the facts of the case to dissuade him from disclosing such facts to the Court or any Police officer. The bench while disposing of the appeals said that if the impounded passport of Babu is returned to him or if he is issued with a fresh passport, he shall immediately surrender the same to the Investigating Officer.

During the hearing, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the state government, said that Babu is an influential person in the film industry, and if the order of anticipatory bail is not set aside, he may influence the witnesses, who are from the film industry or tamper with evidence pertaining to the case. He said that the order needs to be set aside as it restricts the investigating agency from interrogating him for a fixed time frame. The bench said, "We don't think that grant of bail is unwarranted but yes restricting time for interrogation is unwarranted".

Gupta said that Babu has deleted the WhatsApp messages for a 15-days period which pertains to the time of the incident. The bench said that police can very well retrieve those messages and moreover it appears that the victim has also deleted those messages, which shows some kind of understanding between them. Senior advocate R Basant, appearing for the victim, said that Babu is an influential personality in the film industry and used his dominant position to assault the victim who is in her 20s and just entered the film industry. He said Babu has disclosed her identity on Facebook live and tried to pressurize her and influence the witnesses.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Babu, said that he will join the investigation as and when called by the investigating officer. On Tuesday, the bench had agreed to hear pleas of the Kerala government and an actress, who has alleged rape by Babu challenging the grant of anticipatory bail to him by the high court. On June 22, the high court granted anticipatory bail to Babu. The high court had granted Babu relief subject to the conditions that he shall "surrender" before the investigating officer (IO) on June 27 for interrogation.

He can be interrogated for the next seven days from then till July 3 and he shall not contact or interact with the victim or any of the witnesses in the case, it had said. During the period from June 27 to July 3, he shall be deemed to be under the custody of police "for facilitating the requirements of investigation", the court had said allowing his plea seeking anticipatory bail in the rape case.

The producer-actor had also alleged in his plea, that there is a "trend" of making allegations against anybody to tarnish the image of a person, who is popular in society and for the sake of publicity. Babu had claimed that he was innocent and was "highly aggrieved" by the one-sided approach of the authorities to make him a "scapegoat for the purpose of news and the media". The woman, who had appeared in movies produced by Babu's production house, lodged a complaint with the police on April 22 and detailed through a Facebook post the physical assault and sexual exploitation she had allegedly suffered at the hands of the producer-actor for the past one-and-half months.PTI

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