The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted former Narcotics Control Bureau Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede protection from arrest till February 28 in a case against him for allegedly obtaining a bar licence fraudulently, reported Live Law.

The Thane Police had filed the case against Wankhede on February 19 for allegedly obtaining a licence for the Sadguru Bar in Navi Mumbai city through fraud and misrepresentation of personal details. The first information report was based on a complaint by Maharashtra excise officials.

The Thane administration has permanently cancelled the liquor licence for the bar. The police have alleged that Wankhede had lied about his age to obtain the liquor licence despite being a minor.

In a plea, Wankhede has asked the Bombay High Court to quash the FIR against him and give him protection from arrest till the matter is adjudicated.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda, appearing for Wankhede, admitted that his client was a minor at the time of the alleged offence. He submitted that under the Juvenile Justice Act, the maximum punishment prescribed for the offence was up to seven years of jail.

“It is my submission that there can’t be an FIR in this case,” he said, citing provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act.

Advocate Niranjan Mundargi, also representing Wankhede, claimed that the FIR had been registered out of vendetta as his client had taken action against a Maharashtra minister.

The lawyers told the bench of Justices SS Shinde and NR Borkar that if Wankhede is arrested, he could lose his job, reported Bar and Bench.

Chief Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, appearing for the state government, refused to give assurance to the court that no coercive action will be taken against Wankhede till the next date of hearing.

Pai said that Wankhede had been issued a notice under section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure to appear for questioning by police on Wednesday. She said that Waknkhede would not be arrested if he cooperates with the police.

The court, however, was not satisfied with Pai’s response.

“It is an offence of 1997, what are you going to do now?” the court said. ‘Why can’t you make a statement of no arrest. This is neither here nor there.”

To this, Pai said that she did not have instructions to make the statement.

The court then asked Pai to make a statement after seeking instructions. “There are so many convicts languishing in jail,” Justice Shinde said. “We are unable to hear them.”

As the court reconvened after a while, Pai again refused to make a statement assuring that Wankhede would not be arrested till the next date of hearing.

She said that section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure is used to issue a notice when arresting the person is not needed. However, she said that the police should be allowed to proceed in accordance to the law.

The court then passed the order granting protection from arrest to Wankhede.

Case against Wankhede

In his complaint, excise department official Shankar Gogavale claimed that Wankhede got the licence in 1997, when he was still a minor. In November, Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik had made the same allegation against Wankhede.

Malik had also claimed that it was against the service rules for Wankhede to hold a licence for a bar while being in a government job, according to PTI. Wankhede had denied Malik’s allegations.

The Maharashtra Excise Department had then issued a notice to Wankhede in connection with the matter. After examining the allegations against Wankhede and his response on the matter, the department had concluded that obtained the licence on October 27, 1997, when he was a minor. The permissible age to hold such a licence is 21 years.

Wankhede has been booked under Sections 181 (false statement to public servant), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 420 )cheating), 465 (forgery), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471 (Using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of the Indian Penal Code.

Wankhede’s tenure at the Narcotics Control Bureau had ended on December 31, and he did not seek an extension. Till November 5, he had been investigating the Mumbai cruise ship drugs case, involving actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan.

Malik has accused also Wankhede of being part of an extortion racket linked to drug cases against Bollywood actors. The Nationalist Congress Party leader has also alleged that the officer was part of a plan by a Bharatiya Janata Party member to kidnap Aryan Khan.