The CBI Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the High Court judge, who stopped the agency from arresting or interrogating Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his wife in a corruption case, had been a lawyer for the veteran Congress leader in the past.
Following the CBI’s allegation of conflict of interest, the Supreme Court bench of Justice F M I Kalifulla and Justice Uday U Lalit issued notices and sought to know from Singh and his wife as to why the CBI’s plea for their custodial interrogation should not be entertained.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the CBI, claimed that the Himachal Pradesh HC judge had earlier recused from hearing another case against Singh since he had represented the CM as a counsel in the past.
“This learned HC judge had refused to hear a case and it was orally stated in the court that this judge had represented Singh when he was a lawyer. This fact has been widely reported in all newspapers. So why did he hear him now and passed this extraordinary order?” asked Rohatgi, adducing a number of newspaper clippings.
As per the newspaper clippings, Justice Kurian Joseph, who was at the relevant time the chief justice of the state high court and is now a judge in the apex court, had said it in the open court that the matter had to go to some other bench since his fellow judge had informed him that Singh had been his client in the past.
The AG complained that instead of refraining from hearing this case too, the judge went on to pass an exceptional order. “We (CBI) cannot question him (Singh). cannot arrest him. cannot even investigate and file our chargesheet. How can this be allowed? The case cannot proceed without interrogating the man and the lady,” he said.
Accepting the court notice on behalf of Singh, senior advocate Kapil Sibal contested Rohatgi’s arguments, saying it was not true that the HC judge had never heard any case involving Singh. To this, Rohatgi retorted: “So this judge chooses to hear some cases and decides not to hear others. How can this be?”
Agreeing with Rohatgi, the bench said that judges’ decisions regarding recusal have to be abiding in nature. “There has to be some consistency. If you don’t want to hear a case, don’t hear it ever. It has to be abiding on oneself,” observed the bench, while issuing notices on CBI’s plea to suspend the HC order.
On October 1, the HC bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Sureshwar Thakur had not only restrained the CBI from arresting Singh and his wife but also ordered it to neither interrogate them without its permission nor file a chargesheet in trial court.
Rohatgi also sought to transfer the case from the Himachal Pradesh HC to the Delhi HC, contending the case relating to Singh’s disproportionate assets is already being monitored by the Delhi court, where a PIL was filed in the matter. “Besides, he is the CM of the state now. And my lords have already seen the kind of order that has been passed on day one by the HC without hearing us,” he said.
The court then issued notices on the transfer petition and fixed the matter for hearing on November 5.
The case against Singh relates to alleged unaccounted money to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore, which was shown as an increase in agricultural income. Singh filed a petition in the HC pleading that the CBI raids on his private residence and other premises were conducted with “malafide intentions and political vendetta”. He had sought directions for quashing the FIR registered against him and his wife under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC.