The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted interim protection from arrest to BJP leader Kirit Somaiya in a case of alleged misappropriation of funds collected in the name of saving the decommissioned naval aircraft carrier Vikrant. A single bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai said in the event of arrest in the case, Somaiya be released on a personal bond of Rs 50,000.
Justice Prabhudessai also directed Somaiya to cooperate with the police’s probe into the case and asked him to “report to the investigation officer in the case for four days, beginning from April 18, between 11 am and 2 pm." The HC will hear Somaiya’s pre-arrest bail plea further after two weeks on April 28. An FIR was registered against the former MP and his son Neil Somaiya on April 6 at Trombay police station here following a complaint by an ex-Army person, who claimed that Kirit Somaiya had collected Rs 57 crore from the public in 2013 for the restoration of Vikrant. The money was, however, never put to use or deposited with the governor’s office, as per the initial plan, the complaint stated. On Wednesday, advocate Ashok Mundargi, who appeared for Kirit Somaiya, told the HC that this was a “highly politicised matter".
He said that as part of several campaigns held earlier for the decommissioned naval aircraft carrier, Somaiya had led a collection at the Churchgate station in Mumbai. Mundargi said, “Rs 11,224 was collected in December 2013 at a programme at Churchgate. In 2014, the state government, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation backed out (of the initiative to restore the warship) and Vikrant was scrapped." “No one knows where this figure of Rs 57 crore came from," he said. When the court asked if Somaiya knew what happened to Rs 11,000 collected at Churchgate, Mundargi said he was not sure.
“The governor didn’t respond to our letter on this amount collected by us. The money must be lying with some party worker or deposited somewhere," Mundargi said. Senior advocate Shirish Gupte, who appeared for police, told the HC that the probe into the case was still on and the police needed to interrogate both Kirit Somaiya and the complainant. “We need some time and we need his (Kirit Somaiya’s) custody. His (Somaiya’s) whereabouts are not known. We couldn’t trace him. The 41-A CrPC notice (asking him to report for questioning) had to be pasted at his residence, we couldn’t serve it," Gupte said.
Mundargi, however, told the HC that the BJP leader was willing to cooperate with the police probe. He said Kirit Somaiya had left Mumbai because he was apprehending that he will be arrested without being given a chance to approach the court. While granting relief to the BJP leader, the HC took note of the fact that the allegations made in the FIR were “vague" and based mainly on news reports. “Prima facie, apart from the complaint that is so vague and based solely on media reports, there is no basis for the complaint. Unfortunately, from 2013 to 2022, nothing is done, no complaint lodged," the high court noted. “In the light of the above, this is a fit case for grant of interim relief," the HC said.
Commissioned in 1961, INS Vikrant, a Majestic-class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, had played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade of East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. It was decommissioned in 1997. In January 2014, the ship was sold through an online auction and scrapped in November that year.