The Bombay High Court today restrained the Pune police from taking any coercive action against IPS officer Rashmi Shukla till March 25 in connection with the FIR registered against her recently in an alleged phone tapping case.

A Bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice Nitin Borkar said that Shukla deserved to be granted protection from arrest in the case until further orders, since prima facie it appeared that she had been "singled out" in the present FIR registered against her last week by the Bund Garden police station in Pune.

The Bench also noted in its order that the said FIR had been registered against Shukla after a considerable delay.

It took note of Shukla's counsel and Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani that though the alleged incident of illegal phone tapping had taken place over three years ago, the Pune police's FIR was registered against Shukla only on February 25 this year.

Jethmalani further said that while several other officers of the Maharashtra police had been involved in obtaining the sanction for putting certain phone numbers under surveillance, the FIR had been registered only against Shukla.

The Maharashtra government's counsel Y P Yagnik, however, opposed Shukla's request for interim protection from arrest. He further sought some time to file a reply to her plea saying that a copy of the petition had been served to him only on Thursday.

Yagnik urged the high court not to pass any interim orders on the plea.

The Bench, however, said that Shukla had made a case fit for ad-interim relief and that in passing its order, the High Court was merely following the mandate of the Supreme Court.

"We will pass appropriate orders. As per the petitioner's submissions, you (state police) are filing the FIR after three-and-a-half years of the alleged cause of action," the High Court said.

"Is it not a case of malafide action that while apparently several officers are involved, the FIR is filed against only one officer? She is a serving IPS officer, holding a responsible post in Andhra Pradesh. Where is the scope of her absconding?" it said.

While Yagnik argued that the court was considering "only one side of the case," Jethmalani argued that Shukla had been singled out and therefore, prayers in the petition deserved consideration.

Jethmalani further said that though a number of officers were involved in the process of alleged surveillance and phone interception on the basis that the said phone holders were supplying narcotics to college students, nobody else had been named in the said FIR. The senior lawyer also told the High Court that none of the phone numbers allegedly intercepted were registered in the name of any politicians.

The High Court then said that prima facie, it was "convinced" that Shukla deserved to be granted protection until further orders.

"First of all, there is a delay in registering the FIR. Secondly though other officers were involved in obtaining sanction for the surveillance of certain phone numbers, FIR is only against the petitioner," the High Court said in its order.

"Thirdly, the petitioner is a high-ranking officer and is occupying a responsible post of ADG with the CRPF, Hyderabad. It is unlikely that she will abscond. Therefore, she needs to be given protection," it said.

The High Court also recorded in its order that Jethmalani, on the instructions from Shukla, said that she was willing to extend "full cooperation" to the police in its probe in the case.

The High Court granted two weeks to the Pune police to file its reply to Shukla's plea.

It posted the matter for further hearing on March 25 and said that no coercive action must be taken against Shukla in the case until then.

Shukla, who was posted as Pune police commissioner between March 2016 and July 2018, is presently on central deputation and posted as additional director general of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Hyderabad.

The FIR was filed against Shukla under relevant sections of the Indian Telegraph Act for alleged illegal tapping of phones of politicians between 2015 and 2019 during her tenure as the Pune police commissioner.

Seeking to quash the FIR, the IPS officer has said in her plea that she was being "falsely implicated" in the case and that she was a victim of "political vendetta".

With PTI inputs