On 4 April 2022, the Delhi High Court allowed journalist Rana Ayyub to travel overseas, saying that the enforcement Directorate’s lookout circular barring her from traveling out of the country was ‘issued in haste.’ The Indian Express story on the following morning reports that Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said that the lookout circular interferes with Ayyub’s right to personal liberty and free movement. The court said that the Enforcement Directorate has no ‘cogent reason’ to presume that she would not appear before it as she had done so, “On each and every date … when summoned.”
Rana Ayyub was detained at the Mumbai airport as she was scheduled to fly to London. The purported reason for stopping her from leaving the country was because the Enforcement Directorate is investigating the use of funds she collected to help people during the Covid-19 lockdown using the online Ketto platform. The government enforcement agency has apparently alleged that she has not completely used the funds for the purpose that they were raised.
After two hours of detention at the airport, the Enforcement Directorate emailed a summons to her, directing her to remain present before it on 1 April 2022. In the high court, additional solicitor general SV Raja appeared for the Enforcement Directorate and accused her of withholding documents. Advocate Vrinda Grover representing Ayyub told the court that she had supplied all the documents to the Enforcement Directorate and also volunteered to appear before it.
Lookout circular a coercive measure
“The impugned LOC (lookout circular) is accordingly liable to be set aside as being devoid of merit as well as for infringing the human right of the petitioner to travel abroad and to exercise her freedom of speech and expression,” the court stated. Justice Chandra Dhari Singh called the lookout circular a coercive measure to make a person surrender, saying it is to be issued in cases where the accused is deliberately evading summons or arrest or where a person fails to appear in court despite being issued a non-bailable warrant.
The court also questioned the Enforcement Directorate’s argument that Ayyub is only making, “A show of cooperation.” Justice Singh asked why she had not been arrested, “She is not charged for Rs. 1,000 crores … must be Rs 10 crores, 20 crores. (You have) already frozen her account.”
Nevertheless, Ayyub will be required to submit her travel dates along with a detailed itinerary with the addresses of the places she will be visiting and also deposit a surety of Rs 1 lakh with the Enforcement Directorate in Mumbai. She will also have to return to Mumbai before 11 April 2022. “The petitioner shall give the undertaking to appear before the investigation agency immediately on her return and on the dates that might be fixed by the investigation agency for interrogation, if any, after the travel period,” the court said.