The Centre on Wednesday opposed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking court-monitored probe into the Rs 11,400 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, saying investigation was already on in the matter and arrests were being made.
Hearing in the petition witnessed some sharp comments from the bench, which lashed out at the petitioner, terming the PIL a “publicity interested petition”.
“We are opposing this petition. FIR has been filed, arrests are taking place,” Attorney General K K Venugopal told a three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, when the petition, filed by advocate Vineet Dhanda, came up for hearing.
Following this, the bench said it did not want to make any comments on the matter and would hear the Attorney General on the point of law later. The court, however, declined to issue notice.
Dhanda sought to press his request that the court issue notice to the government, saying billionaires who loot the tax payers’ money were sitting safe, while poor people, who take small loan amounts have to suffer the force of the law.
The bench replied that the government had the right to investigate and court cannot pre-empt it. But the petitioner persisted with his demand, forcing Justice Chandrachud to remark: “it had become a fashion to read something in newspapers and come and file petition”.
The petitioner replied that he was only expressing the emotions of the people, to which the bench said, “we need to addresse legal issues, not emotional issues”.
Chief Justice Misra added, “the Attorney General has stood up on his own. We did not call upon him. I don’t see why we should not hear him”.
As Dhanda replied with a question, Justice Chandrachud warned, “Don’t put questions to the CJI”, and added, “Now, it really illustrates that this is to get publicity in the matter”.
An upset Dhanda countered, “I have been in the profession for 16 years. I do not need publicity.”
The bench was furious and added, “It is a publicity interest litigation. This is a misuse of PIL.”
Justice Chandrachud said, “We must not pre-empt the government and stop it from investigating”. He added that the forum of courts was always there if the investigation was not satisfactory.
Before parting, the bench added, “these are all petitions that play to the gallery… you can’t pre-empt the power of government to investigate.”
The court fixed March 16 to hear the matter next.
The plea had sought an SIT probe into the banking fraud, allegedly involving billionaire jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. It has also sought a probe into the role of PNB’s top management and initiation of steps to deport Modi.