In a setback for NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday dismissed a habeas corpus petition filed by his lawyers alleging that his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate was illegal and that procedures laid down in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act were not followed.
A division bench headed by Justice Ranjit More and Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi dismissed the petition. In its 149-page order, the High Court observed that non compliance of some safeguards in the provisions “does not and cannot make arrest of the petitioner as patently illegal, null and void”, so as to invoke the extraordinary writ jurisdiction of this court for issuance of habeas corpus.
The order said that Bhujbal’s custody was duly authorised and granted by the competent special court. “Therefore, he is under custody in consequence of judicial orders of remand passed by the special court. As such, his writ of habeas corpus cannot be maintainable,” the order said.
The court said the remand orders were not “patently routine” or passed “mechanically”, but passed after proper application of mind and that none of the contentions raised by the petitioner to challenge his arrest hold merit. Bhujbal’s counsel Vikram Chaudhary, in the last few hearings, had argued that offences under PML Act are non-cognisable as per a 2005 amendment and the procedures required under Section 155(2) of the Code were not followed.
He had also pointed out that Bhujbal was arrested on the basis of an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), which is an internal document and not a public document such as FIR. It was also submitted that no case diary was maintained and the grounds of arrest were not mentioned in the warrant.
The court observed that Section 19 of the PML Act gives wide powers to the authorised officer to arrest an accused person who is found guilty of having committed an offence punishable under the law, and that such a provision cannot be rendered nugatory by importing technicalities that “frustrate the object of legislature”.
Additional Solicitor General Neeraj Kaul had argued that Section 45a of the PML Act has provisions for cognisable and non-bailable offences and that the other contentions raised by the petitioner are untenable. He had argued that the arrest was done by an authorised officer appointed for the purpose.
Kaul had also questioned why the habeas corpus petition was filed eight months after Bhujbal’s arrest. The court observed that if he is raising this grievance after the lapse of more that eight months, then it is obvious that it is an after-thought.