The Supreme Court on Friday granted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal interim bail in the liquor policy case until June 1, 2024, to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.

“There is no gain saying that General Elections to Lok Sabha is the most significant and an important event this year, as it should be in a national election year. Between 650-700 million voters out of an electorate of about 970 million will cast their votes to elect the government of this country for the next five years. General Elections supply the vis viva to a democracy,” a Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta observed in its order.

The court barred Kejriwal from visiting the Chief Minister’s office or the Delhi Secretariat. He would not sign any official files unless it was required and necessary to obtain clearance or approval from the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.

The order prohibited him from commenting on his role in the liquor policy case. He would not interact with witnesses or have access to official files connected with the case. He should furnish bail bonds for ₹50,000 with one surety to the satisfaction of the Jail Superintendent. Kejriwal has to surrender on June 2.

The court made it clear that the grant of bail was not a comment on the case’s merits or on Kejriwal’s pending appeal against his arrest on March 21. On May 7, a trial court remanded him to judicial custody until May 20.

The eight-page order rejected an argument by the prosecution agency, Directorate of Enforcement (ED), that releasing Kejriwal on interim bail to canvas votes would create an impression among the public, worse still, a judicial precedent, that politicians were a separate class, higher in status than the ordinary citizen and immune from arrest.

Every criminal would vie to be a politician, the ED had rued.

During the short pronouncement of the order, which lasted a little over four minutes after the lunch break, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Central agency, said the ball has already started rolling with Amritpal Singh, who is detained under the National Security Act over Khalistani activities, approaching court for bail to contest in the elections.

“That is a different concern,” Justice Khanna said. “It is the concern of the nation,” Mehta replied.

“We cannot compare that with this case… Let us not put it in such simple straitjacket terms like that,” Justice Khanna said.

In its order, the Bench reasoned that interim bail was granted on the facts of each case.

In Kejriwal’s case, to ignore the “prodigious importance” of the Lok Sabha polls would be “iniquitous and wrong”. It highlighted elections as the “barometer and lifeline of the parliamentary system and its setup”.

The two-judge Bench agreed with the ED that Kejriwal avoided nine summons was a “negative factor”, but there were still other facets which had to be considered.

“Arvind Kejriwal is the Chief Minister of Delhi and a leader of one of the national parties. No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but he has not been convicted. He does not have any criminal antecedents. He is not a threat to society,” the court listed points in favour of Kejriwal.

The court said ED had filed the Enforcement Case Information Report in August 2022. The case had been pending since then, but Kejriwal was arrested only on March 21, a few days after the Model Code of Conduct came into force. Justice Khanna said 22 days of liberty for Mr. Kejriwal to campaign for Aam Aadmi Party would “not make a difference now”.

The order dismissed the ED’s logic that if a politician could get interim bail to campaign, then a farmer or a company director was entitled to the same relief to attend his crops or a board meeting, respectively. The ED had argued that all vocations were equal in stature.

However, the court said granting a political leader interim bail to campaign for the General Elections cannot be compared to granting bail to a farmer seeking to tend to his harvest or to a businessman wanting to attend a board meeting.

Besides, Kejriwal’s petition challenging the legality and validity of his arrest on March 21 was itself pending in the court. “Once the matter is sub judice and the questions relating to the legality of arrest are under consideration, a more holistic and libertarian view is justified in the background that the 18th Lok Sabha General Elections are being held,” the Bench noted.

The court said it intended to wrap up arguments on Kejriwal’s plea to quash his arrest in the case next week and pronounce a judgment shortly.