With the UPA government on its last leg, Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily has rushed a proposal to quash the FIRs filed against him and others by the then AAP government in Delhi on grounds of the FIRs being non est, or “do not exist”.
The proposal sent to the law ministry on March 7 contends that Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) erred in registering the FIRs without conducting a preliminary inquiry as mandated by the SC in November 2013.
On November 12, a five-judge constitution bench, hearing the Lalita Kumari versus Government of Uttar Pradesh case, had ruled that registration of FIR is mandatory under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation.
But the Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam also underlined that a “preliminary inquiry” was required in cognizable corruption cases — as well as in matrimonial disputes, commercial offences and medical negligence cases — before registering an FIR.
“The scope of preliminary inquiry is not to verify the veracity or otherwise of the information received but only to ascertain whether the information reveals any cognizable offence,” the court had said.
The ministry’s assertion is that before registering the FIRs, “a minimum inquiry” should have been conducted to ascertain the validity of the corruption charges levelled against the Union Minister.
Last month, the then Delhi CM Kejriwal had ordered the state’s ACB to register FIRs against Moily, former minister Murli Deora, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and former DG of Hydrocarbons V K Sibal for allegedly conspiring to inflate gas prices. Moily’s plea also claims that the state of Delhi has no jurisdiction to register a probe in a subject which is contained in the Union list. In March 2004, the Supreme Court had ruled that natural gas, including liquefied natural gas (LNG), was a Union subject covered by Entry 53 of List I.
The Delhi government’s FIRs covers a gas pricing formula approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in June, that would raise the price of gas from $4.2 per unit to $8.4 per unit from April 1, with price calibration every quarter. The FIR was registered on the ground that most of the alleged offences, including the decision to finalise the price hike, were committed in Delhi, and the investigation, therefore, could be conducted by the ACB.
Using the turf argument, Moily’s third contention is that policy decisions of the Union Cabinet cannot be probed even if they result in a revenue loss as some of these decisions may have been taken for “higher purposes”.
The plea follows a meeting of the ministries of Home Affairs, Law and Petroleum & Natural Gas on March 6 that decided to refer the issue to the law ministry for seeking the Attorney General’s opinion. “Once the AG’s opinion comes, the home ministry will direct the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to declare the FIRs as non est to convey that they never existed,” said a law ministry official.
Earlier, the ministry had decided to approach the SC for a stay on the ACB’s investigation on the ground that there was no propriety in examining the same issue at two places, as there are already two PILs and one arbitration case pending in the SC.