The Bombay High Court denied anticipatory bail to two men who are accused of being involved in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve Booking Scam.

The Nagpur Bench was dealing with a criminal application filed under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by the accused persons seeking anticipatory bail in connection to the offences punishable under Sections 420, 406, and 409 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

A Single Bench of Justice Urmila Joshi-Phalke said, “Considering the role of applicants in the crime having involved enormous and huge amount, siphoning of the amount and fabrication of digital data, and the investigation revealing the manner in which the forest department is duped and the government money is at stake, the role of the applicants is clearly exposed.”

Considering the nature of the crime, the Bench observed that huge amount is involved in the case.

Senior Advocate R.L. Khapre appeared for the applicants while Additional Public Prosecutor V.A. Thakare and Advocate Kartik Shukul appeared for the respondents.

In this case, the applicants/accused were partners of partnership firm named “Wild Connectivity Solutions (WCS) and the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve Conservation Foundation (TATR) entered into an agreement with the WCS for Online bookings of “Jungle Safari” in 2021. As per allegations levelled by the Divisional Forest Officer of the TATR by lodging a complaint, the aforesaid agreement was for Online bookings for tourists to visit the Tadoba Forest and that the accused contravened terms and conditions. It was alleged that they did not deposit the amount and duped the Government Forest Department by not paying amount Rs. 12,15,50,831/-.

It was further alleged that the accused had accepted the money Online for tourists for “Jungle Safari Bookings”, but they did not pay it to the Forest Department as per the agreement. Moreover, they used the name of TATR for bookings and for their personal business. Though the Forest Department asked them to furnish Online bookings’ data and other details, they did not provide the said information and also did not provide the statement of monthly bookings account to the Forest Department and, therefore, the Forest Department had cancelled the agreement with them. It directed them not to accept any safari bookings. It was alleged that they had siphoned the public amount and thereby committed the offence. On the basis of the said report, the police registered the crime.

The High Court in the above context of the case noted, “… if facts of the present case are taken into consideration, it reveals that not only there is an allegation of siphoning the amount but also there is an allegation of fabrication of the electronic record as the Forensic Audit Analysis shows that entries 83968 out of 171584 are deleted regarding transactions. … Though several communications were made, there was no response from applicants. The entire data is lying with applicants and unless and until it is collected by the investigating officer, the exact amounts of transactions cannot be ascertained.”

The Court also noted that as per the prosecution, total transactions of Rs.72 crores were made of the TATR bookings on the account of ICICI Bank and out of which transactions of Rs. 63 crores were done through Razorpay and therefore, custodial interrogation of the applicants is required to ascertain the details regarding the entries from that gateway.

“The entire data is lying with applicants and after sufficient opportunity being provided to them, they have not produced the same. Thus, it is apparent that there is no cooperation from applicants and applicants are claiming relief of anticipatory bail. … The relief of anticipatory bail is aimed at safeguarding individual rights. While it serves as a crucial tool to prevent the misuse of the power of arrest and protects innocent individuals from harassment”, it said.

Furthermore, the Court observed that while the right to liberty and presumption of innocence are vital, the court must also consider the gravity of the offence, the impact on society, and the need for a fair and free investigation. It said that the discretion is to be used in weighing these interests in the facts and circumstances of each case.

“Though learned Senior Counsel for applicants submitted that dispute between the parties is subject to the arbitration, the intention of applicants can be gathered from circumstances and manner in which transactions were entered into by applicants and large money of government is siphoned”, it added.

Accordingly, the High Court rejected the application.

Cause Title- Abhishek s/o Vinodsingh Thakur and anr. v. State of Maharashtra (Neutral Citation: 2024:BHC-NAG:687)

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