Mumbai: Hookah supplier gets interim bail from the apex court; public prosecutor says he didn’t inform NM Joshi Marg police, who failed to oppose his plea.
In what appears to be an unprecedented occurrence, one of the prime accused in the Kamala Mills fire tragedy caught the police unawares by procuring interim bail from the Supreme Court on Monday on the ground that his bail application was “not being listed before the High Court for quite some time”.
The police didn’t even know that Utkarsh Pandey, the hookah supplier of Mojo’s Bistro which was gutted in the fire along with adjacent 1Above, killing 14 patrons on December 29 last year, had moved the SC and hence, couldn’t oppose the bail plea.
This came to light when the matter came up before the sessions court on Tuesday. Pandey was directed by the apex court to approach the sessions court, who would decide his conditions for release. But at the sessions court, special public prosecutor Prakash Shetty told the judge that Pandey obtained the interim bail order from the Supreme Court without informing the NM Joshi Marg police. Moreover, he filed for bail in the High Court but hadn’t “circulated the matter” with the bench, which is why it hadn’t been listed. The automatic date for hearing the bail plea on the HC system is March 23.
“The investigating officer or the police officers have not received an intimation. The officers say that they were not aware about the petition being filed in the Supreme Court and no notice of the same was also served on them,” the reply filed by Shetty said. This meant that Pandey’s application in the apex court went unchallenged.
Pandey, along with several others, was arrested on January 20 this year. He is accused of supplying hookahs to Mojo’s Bistro. The burning ambers from the hookah reportedly caused the fire. On February 16, the sessions court rejected Pandey’s bail application, along with those of 11 other accused.
However, challenging different orders, Pandey and his employee Sayyed Ali (also an accused in the case) approached the High Court on February 17 and 20, respectively. Ali’s case was mentioned for “circulation” and argued at length by senior advocate Vikram Chaudhari and special public prosecutor Shetty. Finally, the bail application was withdrawn on March 8. Pandey’s bail plea was not circulated. He then directly approached the Supreme Court on March 10. The case first came up for hearing on March 14 and then on March 19 when a division bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan granted him interim bail.
After hearing Pandey’s lawyers, including senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Chaudhari, the SC said that he has been in jail and the matter was not being listed before the High Court for quite some time. “Also keeping in view the alleged role of the petitioner, we are of the view that the petitioner should be released on interim bail till the matter is taken up by the High Court,” said the SC order.
At the sessions court, Shetty said that since an order had already been passed by the SC, strict conditions should be put on Pandey. Subsequently, he was ordered not to leave the city, submit his passport to the police and report to the police station every Monday.