On a day of high drama and action, Tarun Tejpal, accused of sexually assaulting a woman reporter in Tehelka, today got a minor relief when a local court gave him interim protection from arrest till 10 AM tomorrow.
Dodging a combined team of Goa and Delhi police that visited his house in Delhi at the crack of dawn to arrest him, Tejpal landed in Panaji around the time District and Sessions judge Anuja Prabhudesai gave him the reprieve till tomorrow morning.
The judge, who had issued non-bailable warrants to Goa and Delhi Police for his arrest earlier in the morning, later stayed his arrest till 2.30 PM on an anticipatory bail application moved by Tejpal's lawyers.
During arguments on the bail application in the post- lunch session, Tejpal's lawyer Geeta Luthra contended that he was a man of high integrity and reputation and that the CCTV footage of the hotel will exonerate him.
The complaint from the victim, who was seen normal even after the alleged incident, came 10 days after the said episode, she argued.
After securing the relief, Tejpal, the founding editor of the weekly where the victim was working as the journalist and was allegedly assaulted in five star hotel lift earlier this month, left Delhi by a 2.30 PM flight, accompanied by his wife Geetan Batra, other family members and lawyers.
Before boarding the aircraft, Tejpal said he was going to Goa as he has got summons from the police.
Television journalists on board the same flight milled around an unwilling Tejpal for comments that the air crew reportedly threatened to make an emergency landing in some other destination.
Tejpal faced some protests and black flag demonstration by BJP's youth wing activists as he left the Dabolim airport amidst tight security.
Luthra said Tejpal was a free man but would be joining investigations whenever the investigating officer calls him. He has come to Goa to join the probe, she said.
During arguments, Luthra twice took the name of the victim to which the public prosecutor took strong exception. The judge sternly told the lawyer this was not right on her part to name the victim. "You know the law is strict on it," the judge said.
Luthra said none of the charges of rape, outraging the modesty of a woman and custodial rape have been made out against him. She said strange procedures have been adopted in the case.
"I fear that there is some political hand in it resulting in tainted investigation."
She said Tejpal stood for human rights. He has ruffled many feathers within own community and also political leaders because of which he is not getting opportunity to have any say.
When the judge asked whether the allegations against him were politically motivated, the lawyer refused to say they were political.
Luthra said the allegations were post facto--almost eleven days after the alleged incident.
"My client is a person of great integrity and reputation. For three years Tehelka was persecuted. It is easy to get him into disrepute, the credibility (has been) created over 50 years. My client was created many enemies. His sting operations had even forced the defence minister to resign".
The lawyer said Tejpal was not asked to join investigation even days after the FIR was filed.
"I was waiting for intimation. I filed transit bail only after the girl was examined by Goa police." She said summons were sent through Goa Sadan. They were served in the absence of an adult male member.
"Police are carrying out media trial. If this can happen to such a person what can happen to ordinary person."
Luthra urged for private viewing of CCTV footage inside and outside the lift. "No criminality happened, no offence happened. No criminality has happened."
She contended that the entire two day CCTV footage of the girl should be viewed to check whether she was really "hysterical and distraught".
The defence lawyer also produced the picture of the victim with Tejpal and eminent writer Robert De Nero taken two days after the incident and said that the girl was seen to be comfortable. "If you see the CCTV footage, you will exonerate me completely. At this stage we cannot say what the girl says is gospel truth," she said.
The public prosecutor will present the prosecution arguments when the court resumes hearing tomorrow.