MUMBAI: Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was on Thursday granted bail by the Bombay High Court, 25 days after his arrest by the NCB in the case of seizure of banned drugs aboard a cruise ship off the Mumbai coast earlier this month, a drugs bust that triggered a series of controversies and put the central agency and its officials under the spotlight.
However, Aryan Khan is not likely to walk out of the Arthur Road jail, where he is currently lodged under judicial custody, immediately as the court is yet to give its operative order on the conditions imposed while granting bail.
A single bench of Justice N W Sambre also granted bail to his co-accused Arbaaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha.
The HC's order granting bail to Aryan Khan was hailed by several film personalities, while a huge group of fans gathered outside the superstar's sea-facing bungalow 'Mannat' in suburban Bandra in show of solidarity and celebrate end of his incarceration.
Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, who has been targeting the NCB, especially its zonal director in Mumbai Sameer Wankhede, over the cruise drugs bust episode, posted a cryptic message after the bail order and continued his tirade against the IRS officer.
Tweeting in Hindi, Malik, who in the past had termed the drugs case as 'bogus', said, "Picture abhi baaki hai (The picture is not over yet)." Outside the court premises, Arbaaz's father Aslam Merchant, a lawyer by profession, welcomed the decision, but said his son and Aryan Khan have undergone an agony of "34,560 minutes in jail".
"My son and even Aryan, who is like my son, have been traumatized. Now, when our kids are on that side of the wall we understand the plight of several others and what is agony," Aslam Merchant, a lawyer by profession.
"All three applications are allowed. I will pass detailed orders by tomorrow evening," Justice Sambre said even as Aryan Khan's counsel Mukul Rohatgi was putting forth his arguments.
Aryan Khan's advocates then sought permission to submit cash bail to which the court refused and said surety is to be given.
Hearing on their bail applications started on Tuesday. "I could have given the order tomorrow also. But I gave it today," Justice Sambre said. The legal team of the 23-year-old Aryan Khan will now try to complete the formalities for his release by Friday or Saturday. Justice Sambre said he would pass a detailed order assigning reasons later.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, appearing for the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), commenced his arguments at 2.58 pm and completed the same a little after 4.10 pm.
After the NCB, Rohatgi, a former Attorney General, started his rejoinder arguments which went on for about 15 minutes.
His arguments were cut short abruptly by Justice Sambre, who tossed the case related papers towards his staff and said, "All three applications are allowed." This led to a scramble among media persons and lawyers to exit the courtoom.
While hearing the NCB's arguments, Justice Sambre sought to know on what basis the anti-drug agency was saying that Aryan Khan had dealt with commercial quantity of drugs. To this, Singh said Aryan Khan had made an attempt to deal with commercial quantity.
"WhatsApp chats show this. The NCB has also obtained a certificate under section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act to authenticate that the electronic evidence has been collected from the accused's phone," he said.
Singh argued that the NCB had got "secret information" that around 11 persons were going to consume drugs on the cruise, which was raided by the central agency on October 2.
"At the time of raid, out of the 11 persons, eight were apprehended and most of them were found with drugs. This cannot be a coincidence. This is why the NCB is saying it is a conspiracy," Singh said. The court then asked if the NCB's case is that of cumulative effect.
Singh agreed and said, "Aryan Khan and Merchant are connected with drug peddlers and hence cumulative effect attracts section 28 and 29 of the NDPS Act." Aryan Khan, his friend Arbaaz Merchant and Dhamecha, a fashion model, were arrested by the NCB on October 3 and booked under relevant sections of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) for possession, consumption, sale/purchase of banned drugs, conspiracy and abetment.
The NCB opposed their bail pleas and argued that the case attracted conspiracy and abetment charges.
Aryan Khan's counsel Rohatgi, however, said conspiracy means there has to be a "meeting of minds".
"Aryan does not know any of the other accused in the case except Arbaaz Merchant. There is absolutely no material to show conspiracy," Rohatgi argued.
So far, 20 persons have been arrested in the drugs case. Singh argued that Aryan Khan and Merchant are habitual consumers of drugs. "Our record shows that Aryan Khan has been procuring drugs in bulk and commercial quantities. These are hard drugs. He (Aryan) has been in contact with drug peddlers," the ASG argued.
"There is a chance of tampering with evidence or witnesses in the case. This is NCB's apprehension based on the affidavit filed by one independent witness in the case," Singh said.
He further opposed Aryan Khan's arguments that there was no drug recovery from him and said there was conscious possession as he was aware that Merchant was carrying charas which was meant to be for consumption during journey on the Goa-bound cruise ship.
Singh also said there was no need for the NCB to conduct a medical test on the accused to check for drugs as the agency's case is not that they had consumed drugs.
"Why should the NCB test when we know that they have been caught for possession and conspiracy? The drugs were meant to be consumed later," he said.
The ASG said sections 28 and 29 (of NDPS Act) for abetment and conspiracy have been applied in the case based on the material available with the NCB which include WhatsApp chats.
Singh added that probe in the case was still on and the agency needs time to ascertain from where the seized drugs were procured.
The ASG assailed the arguments made by Aryan Khan and Merchant's lawyers on Wednesday that till date the charges of abetment and conspiracy have not been invoked in the case.
"The NCB's first remand application that was submitted to the magistrate's court on October 3, four hours after the accused persons arrest, and the other remand applications clearly say sections 28 and 29 have been applied in the case," Singh said.
"The arrest memo also says that the accused (Aryan Khan) has been arrested in connection with commercial quantity. This means conspiracy. So it is not right to say that the accused was not aware of inclusion of sections 28 and 29," he added.
If there had been any error then the magistrate would have noted it while hearing the remand plea, the NCB counsel argued. Aryan Khan was in NCB's remand for four days before being sent to judicial custody on October 7.
"If the accused are now claiming their arrest is illegal then why have they not challenged the magistrate's order remanding them to NCB custody," the ASG said.
In a lighter vein, Singh said the accused persons ought not to have tried to do all this on October 2, which is considered a dry day owing to Gandhi Jayanti.
"Drug menace is a serious problem in our society. It is a heinous crime that is worse than culpable homicide and hence has to be dealt with accordingly," Singh said.
"Aryan Shah Rukh Khan has ultimately been released on bail by the HC. No possession, No Evidence, No Consumption, No Conspiracy, Right from the First Moment when he was detained on 2nd Oct (rpt Oct) 2021, nor is there anything as of now," said advocate Satish Maneshinde, a key member of the star-son's legal team.
As the news of bail to Aryan Khan spread, fans started to arrive outside Shah Rukh's residence amid the presence of nearly 20 cops.
Shah Rukh's youngest son, AbRam, was seen waving at the fans from the terrace, reminding many of the actor's annual routine of greeting his supporters on his birthday on November 2.
A group of his supporters were seen flaunting a banner with "Welcome back prince Aryan" written on it.
Others carried placards of "We love Shah Rukh. We love Aryan". They also burst fire crackers to cheer the relief of their favorite star, but were later stopped by the cops.
"This is the happiest day for us. Our 'mannat' (prayer) has been fulfilled. We prayed for nothing but love and positivity for the Khan family so it is emotional for us to see that they have finally been given relief," Sujata Shah, a fan, told PTI.
Filmmakers Rahul Dholakia, Sudhir Mishra, and actor R Madhavan were among the film personalities who hailed the HC's bail order.
Director Sanjay Gupta and actor Swara Bhasker singer Mika, among others, also expressed happiness over the development. Minister Malik continued to target NCB officer Wankhede.
The state minority affairs minister has repeatedly termed the cruise drugs case as "fake" and levelled various allegations against Wankhede, including illegal phone tapping and using forged documents to secure job.
In a video message circulated to media on Thursday, Malik said, "The officer (Wankhede) who arrested Aryan Khan and others has now approached the Bombay High Court requesting a restraining order against Mumbai police from arresting him.
He had approached Mumbai police in the last week requesting protection. He must have done something really wrong and that is why he is afraid of action against him."
"The Mumbai police have informed the Bombay High Court that they would issue a notice of his arrest 72 hours prior if they intend to take any such action. I reiterate my earlier comments that this drug case is completely bogus. The kids were deliberately framed in this case," Malik said.
"If the case comes before the Bombay High Court, it will get squashed," the minister added. The central agency and Wankhede, who led the raid on the cruise vessel, have refuted all allegations levelled against them.