Updated: July 23, 2021 3:34:25 am
In a setback to former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and state’s ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, the Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed Deshmukh’s writ petition challenging the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) FIR filed against him on April 21 on charges of bribery, corruption and criminal conspiracy.
The court also dismissed a separate plea filed by the Maharashtra government seeking directions to set aside two “unnumbered paragraphs” from the corruption FIR registered on April 21 against Deshmukh and other unknown persons.
Dismissing Deshmukh’s plea, a division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice N J Jamadar said, “The writ petition deserves to be dismissed. The HC Registrar General is directed to return the investigation papers of CBI. The petition is disposed of.”
On April 5, a division bench of HC led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta had initiated a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) based on a complaint by lawyer Jaishri Patil which referred to former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh’s March 20 letter to the Chief Minister accusing that Deshmukh and others had demanded the collection of Rs 100 crore every month from various bars and restaurants in Mumbai.
After completion of the PE, the CBI had registered an FIR against Deshmukh and other persons following which the former minister moved the High Court challenging the entire FIR on May 3.
Senior Counsel Amit Desai along with advocates Kamlesh Ghumre and Sonali Jadhav, representing Deshmukh, submitted that the entire procedure to register FIR, after concluding preliminary enquiry (PE) initiated through an HC order, had been a case of overreach as state’s consent was not taken as per Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act after conclusion of the PE. Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, for the CBI, opposed Deshmukh’s claims.
The Court, while stating that the acts attributed to petitioner Deshmukh can “by no stretch of imagination” be said to be done as part of his official duties, observed: “At this stage, when investigation is underway, any attempt to sieve through the material with a fine gauze to ascertain the existence or otherwise of the ingredients of the offences is uncalled for. It is trite that FIR is not an encyclopedia and the purpose of investigation is to unearth the truth.”
The HC bench refused a request made by Deshmukh’s counsel seeking a stay on the operation of the judgment to allow him time to approach the Supreme Court.
The bench also dismissed the Maharashtra government’s plea seeking directions to set aside two “unnumbered paragraphs” from the corruption FIR registered against Deshmukh and other unknown persons.
One of the paragraphs stated that “the central agency in its Preliminary Enquiry (PE) had found that Deshmukh was aware of the reinstatement of now suspended and arrested assistant police inspector (API) Sachin Waze into the police after 15 years, and sensitive and sensational cases being given to Waze for investigation”.
Waze is being probed by the NIA for his alleged role in the Ambani house terror scare case and the subsequent murder of businessman Mansukh Hiran.
The second “unnumbered paragraph” stated that Deshmukh and others exercised “undue influence” over the transfer and postings of police officers.
The plea filed by the state government on April 30 said the two paragraphs were inserted to “destabilise the present government in Maharashtra” by providing “some material” to Opposition parties in the state.
Senior advocate Rafique Dada and advocate Akshay Shinde represented the Maharashtra government in its plea while Solicitor General Mehta along with Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, representing the CBI, denied the allegations by the state government and sought dismissal of the plea.
“The Investigation Agency (CBI), in our view, can legitimately inquire into the aspect of transfers and postings of police officers…” the bench noted in its judgment.
“Conversely, the April 5 order of the division bench cannot be construed as giving an unfettered authority to CBI to inquire into transfers and postings of the police officers generally, which does not reflect upon the alleged acts and conduct expressly attributed to the former home minister and his confederates. We part with this judgment with assurance that officers of Delhi Special Police Establishment (CBI), a premier investigating agency, are and must be fully allowed to take their responsibilities. And duty of police constituted under either state enactment or special Act, is to serve none but the law,” the HC noted.
Referring to the March 20 letter written by Singh to CM Uddhav Thackeray, raising corruption allegations against Deshmukh, the bench noted, “The allegations are not restricted to extortion of money. The matter of interference in the performance of the official duties by the police officers, including the course of investigation in a particular matter, as alleged, has the propensity to erode the very edifice of enforcement of law.”
The state government, along with placing a request to stay operation of the judgment to approach SC, also sought continuation of CBI’s statement for two weeks that it will not act on letters it had sent to the state government seeking documents including a letter/report by former state intelligence commissioner Rashmi Shukla, alleging undue political interference in postings and transfers of officers.
The CBI refused to continue the interim statement, which the Court accepted and also rejected a plea to stay operation of its ruling.
The bench clarified “by way of abundant caution,” that “the observations hereinabove are made for the limited purpose for adjudicating challenges in present petitions”, adding they will have no bearing on determination of other petitions filed by Singh and Shukla against the state, which are pending before the HC.
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