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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

CBI probe: Supreme Court dismisses Anil Deshmukh, Maharashtra govt pleas

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta observed that the nature of allegations and people involved in the case needs an inquiry by an independent agency.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
Updated: April 9, 2021 1:48:44 am
Anil Deshmukh resigned as Maharashtra Home Minister. (File Photo)

THE SUPREME Court Thursday dismissed petitions filed by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra and Anil Deshmukh challenging the Bombay High Court order for a “preliminary inquiry” by the agency into corruption allegations levelled against the former state home minister by ex-Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh.

Turning down Deshmukh’s objections that he was not heard before the High Court passed the order and that the allegations against him were just hearsay, a bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hemant Gupta said: “…we are of the view that the nature of allegations, the personas involved and the seriousness of the allegations do require an independent agency to enquire into the matter. It is a matter of public confidence given the factual scenario. We may also add that what has been directed is only a preliminary enquiry albeit by an independent agency.”

Disagreeing with the contention of the state government counsel, Senior Advocate A M Singhvi, that “merely because the Home Minister has resigned after the impugned order would be a factor not to direct enquiry by an independent agency”, the bench said: “The two personas held post of Home Minister and Commissioner of Police for a long period and the latter would be a post of confidence of the former.”

The apex court said it is “unable to accept” the contention of Deshmukh’s counsel, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, that even for directing a preliminary enquiry, he is mandatorily entitled to be heard in his individual capacity although the state government, of which he was a minister, was represented.

Deshmukh had argued that the High Court order would affect the federal structure as the state had already withdrawn general consent to CBI to probe cases in its territory. The bench said: “You can’t say it affects the federal structure. This does not happen every day. Both (Singh and Deshmukh) have been heads of institutions where something has gone wrong.”

Singhvi contended that the state had much to say in the matter but did not get a chance to file a counter. Justice Kaul said: “The allegations are very serious. The two personas involved… were closely working together till they fell apart, both holding a particular position. Then should the CBI not investigate?”

Justice Kaul said: “This is not your enemy who has made these allegations”, but “almost your right-hand man”.

Justice Gupta said Deshmukh did not resign when a probe commission was set up by the state but did so only after the HC order. “He was clinging to his office…FIR is to be lodged as soon as you receive the information. You did not. You sat over it. You have to at least conduct preliminary enquiry,” Justice Gupta said.

Sibal contended that what happened in the High Court was a “complete mockery of justice”. But Justice Kaul observed: “Facts are very important. It’s not about a political rival. Here is a very senior officer making allegations about a very senior Minister.” Justice Gupta asked: “Should a suspect be heard before preliminary inquiry?” Sibal said: “I’m not an accused…I’m not even a suspect.”

Justice Kaul observed that this is not a case of political or business rivalry. Sibal pointed out that there were allegations levelled against another minister, too, and added, “but all these have no evidentiary value or supporting documents. All of this is hearsay…”

Justice Gupta then referred to certain portions of the judgment and said that “high officials of the State are involved in the matter. Whether it is A, B, C or D, that is the matter of investigation”.

At one point, Sibal also said the probe could be from the High Court or the apex court but the bench said, “You cannot pick and choose the investigating agency”.

On Monday, the High Court had asked the CBI to complete a preliminary enquiry within 15 days after which, it said, the agency’s director is at liberty to take further course of action.

The order came on a PIL by Mumbai-based lawyer Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil who referred to the eight-page letter sent by Param Bir Singh to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that Deshmukh asked assistant police inspector Sachin Waze to collect Rs 100 crore every month, including Rs 40-50 crore from 1,750 bars and restaurants in Mumbai. Waze is currently in NIA custody in connection with the bomb scare case.

Deshmukh has denied the allegations against him. Hours after the High Court’s direction, the NCP leader tendered his resignation, capping days of political tension within the ruling coalition.

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