Dissatisfied with the state Anti Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) approach in investigating the Kharghar toll scam, the Bombay High Court Wednesday rapped the agency for its “unwillingness” to register an FIR immediately. The court observed that when an issue involved the public at large, the state could not oppose or delay an FIR by citing procedural reasons.
In the last hearing, when the court was informed that the state government has granted permission to conduct an open inquiry, the ACB informed the court the open inquiry would be completed in six months, after which an FIR would be registered based on the findings.
A division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi was hearing a petition filed by activist Pravin Wategaonkar, alleging irregularities and large-scale corruption in the tender process of appointing an operator at the Kharghar toll naka.
On Wednesday, the ACB, through its counsel Sultana Sonawane, informed the court that as per procedural manual, the inquiry would take up to six months as a lot of documents since 2006 had to be examined, apart from recording statements.
Wategaonkar said the preliminary inquiry was over and the agency had verified the complaint based on which it had sought approval for open inquiry. “The ACB is deliberately seeking time and prolonging the case. It has come to our knowledge that if an FIR is registered before March 31, the amount that the government has to pay the contractors, about Rs 390 crore, will be stuck. So they are buying time so that they can finish the transaction. The agency is trying to protect the interest of contractors.”
The court told the state the manual was not bigger than the Constitution. “You are killing time. There is public money at stake. You must register an FIR since preliminary inquiry has been done. It’s your statutory duty. Why do you need to do an open inquiry when the allegation is of corruption and irregularities in awarding contracts. How many inquiries do you need?” questioned Justice More. The court granted time till Monday for the state to respond after it sought time to seek instructions.