On March 1, 2007, based on a PIL filed by Vishwanath Chaturvedi, an advocate, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the alleged accumulation of disproportionate assets by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family. A bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and A R Lakshmanan asked the agency to check if the allegations made by Chaturvedi were correct, conduct a preliminary enquiry and see if a case could be made for further action.
The charge against the family was that they had illegally accumulated assets worth over Rs 100 crore between 1999 and 2005, part of it coinciding with Mulayam’s tenure as chief minister (2003-7). The petition sought an investigation against Mulayam, his sons Akhilesh and Prateek, and daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav.
Seeking a review of this order, Mulayam and his family members alleged that they were being harassed by political rivals. They added that the court’s order to start an inquiry would “set a dangerous precedent” of allowing political opponents to file “false and frivolous” petitions. The Yadavs also filed review petitions against the order to conduct the preliminary inquiry.
Dramatic events unfolded on the morning of March 16, 2007, when the matter came up in court. Justice Lakshmanan, set to retire a week later, broke down, saying he could not hear the matter as he had received a “heinous letter” that morning. Although he did not reveal the contents of the letter, it later emerged that the letter alleged that he had been influenced to favour the Yadavs. Another bench was constituted to hear the case.
BSP comes to power
After the SP lost power to the BSP in Uttar Pradesh in May 2007, the CBI told the Supreme Court it had found prima facie evidence against the Yadavs to launch a criminal investigation.
The CBI in its status report, filed after the conclusion of the preliminary investigation, said that “registration of a regular case under Prevention of Corruption Act against Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and others is warranted”. The report also concluded that “prima facie possession of assets disproportionate to known source of income” was Rs 2.63 crore. The report said if the assets of Sadhna Yadav, Mulayam’s wife, “fake” receipts of gifts worth Rs 1.07 crore and construction cost of a building at Safai were included, the total amount of disproportionate assets would go up to Rs 4.80 crore. The CBI also alleged that “Akhilesh Yadav, an MP, in (his) capacity of public servant, has not only abetted his father Mulayam Singh Yadav in acquisition of assets but has also acquired assets disproportionate to his known source of income”.
In October 2007, the CBI approached the court, seeking its permission to proceed against the Yadavs. It filed another application in March 2008, seeking expeditious disposal of its earlier plea.
A new political scene
In 2008, the crisis within UPA-I had deepened over the Indo-US nuclear deal and Left parties were threatening to withdraw support. On July 8, 2008, Left parties withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government, but on the same day, Mulayam bailed it out by announcing the support of his 39 MPs. Later that month, the UPA government sailed through the trust vote with 275 votes in favour and 256 against.
That month, Dimple Yadav wrote to then prime minister Manmohan Singh, denying the allegations against her in the case. She followed up her letter with two more letters, in September and October 2008. The allegation against Dimple was that she held benami property on behalf of the family. The PM forwarded her letter to the CBI, which then sought a legal opinion. In November 2008, then solicitor general G E Vahanvati gave his opinion: that the assets of Dimple and Malti Devi, Mulayam’s late first wife, could not be clubbed with Mulayam’s because they “held no public office”.
In December 2008, the CBI filed an application before the court, seeking withdrawal of its earlier plea on the registration of a regular case against the Yadavs. The court was livid. In February 2009, it pulled up the agency for acting at the behest of the Centre and said it would not like the agency to become an instrument of the government. The court reserved its order.
In March 2009, the CBI made a volte-face again and approached the court saying it stood by its first application that sought to proceed against the Yadavs. Around this time, the Congress and SP had failed to strike a seat-sharing pact for the Lok Sabha elections.
In April 2009, the Yadavs told the court that a constitution bench was adjudicating a pertinent question as to whether a CBI probe can be ordered without the consent of the state government — as was done in this case — and hence the decision on the point of law should be awaited.
The constitution bench delivered its verdict in February 2010, saying a CBI inquiry could be ordered in “certain cases” without the consent of the state government. In February 2011, the top court started hearing the case again and in the same month the judgment was reserved.
In December 2012, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the petition by Chaturvedi and the review petition by the Yadavs. In a setback for Mulayam and his son, now Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, the court refused to stop the CBI inquiry against them.
While holding that the CBI probe against Mulayam and his sons Akhilesh and Prateek would continue, the bench of Altamas Kabir and H L Dattu, however, provided relief to Akhilesh’s wife, Dimple. While noting that Dimple wasn’t holding any public office when the case was filed, the CBI probe against her was dropped.
Disposing of the review petitions and not the applications filed by the CBI during the proceedings, the bench modified its order of March 1, 2007, and asked the CBI to file its status report before the apex court and not to the government.
The status now
In September 2013, the CBI made it official that it was closing the case against the Yadavs since there was insufficient evidence of disproportionate assets. But the case can be closed only when the CBI files a closure report in the Supreme Court. The BJP has already taken on the Congress for the delayed probe, blaming the party for allegedly “misusing CBI for political purposes” and using it to “ensure the survival of the UPA”.