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Monday, April 19, 2021

‘Unheard of that a minister can be so openly accused of wrongdoings by senior officer’

After the HC order, Deshmukh tendered his resignation saying he did not deem it ‘morally’ appropriate to hold the home ministerial post in view of CBI preliminary inquiry.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: April 6, 2021 2:05:58 am
‘Unheard of that a minister can be so openly accused of wrongdoings by senior officer’Anil Deshmukh resigned as Maharashtra Home Minister. (File Photo)

MAINTAINING THERE cannot be “fair, impartial and untainted probe if the same was entrusted to the state police force which is under the control of the Home Minister,” the Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to carry out a “preliminary inquiry” into corruption allegations of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh against former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

After HC order, Deshmukh tendered his resignation saying he did not deem it ‘morally’ appropriate to hold the home ministerial post in view of CBI preliminary inquiry.

Terming the case as “unprecedented”, the court asked the CBI to complete the probe as earliest as possible, preferably within 15 days, after which the CBI director is at liberty to take “further course of action.”

“It is indeed unheard of and unprecedented that a Minister could be so openly accused of wrongdoings and corrupt practices by none other than a senior police officer, attracting wide attention from all and sundry,” a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish Kulkarni said.

Three days after he was removed as Mumbai Police Commissioner and posted to the Home Guards, Singh wrote an eight-page letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that Deshmukh asked suspended and arrested 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.

The HC disposed of the criminal PIL by Singh, seeking a CBI probe against Deshmukh for alleged malpractices along with the two other PILs filed by seeking an independent probe.

In his plea, Singh added that in August 2020, Rashmi Shukla, then Commissioner Intelligence, State Intelligence Department, had brought to the notice of the DGP about corruption in postings and transfers at Maharashtra. The DGP, in turn, had brought it to the knowledge of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home). The court also passed the order pertaining to the CBI’s preliminary inquiry on criminal writ plea by city-based lawyer Jaishri Patil, who, along with an independent probe into the allegations, had sought directions to police to take cognizance of complaint filed by her at Malabar Hill police station, alleging corruption by Deshmukh, Singh, and others. Patil had sought registration of FIR in the case.

Appearing for Singh, senior counsel Vikram Nankani submitted that his client had constraints to register the complaint as the allegations were against the state Home Minister, who is the functional and statutory head of the department which oversees police, and also the state had withdrawn general consent to the CBI to probe cases in the state. Nankani had submitted while the Supreme Court had barred the HC, except for “rare cases,” from ordering CBI “investigation” without FIR, his client was only asking for “preliminary inquiry” at this stage.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state government opposed the pleas and raised preliminary objection on the maintainability of the PILs, stating “there is no doubt the state government is eager and anxious to get cleared the clouds of suspicion due to wild allegations, unnecessarily creating suspicion over the police force”.
Kumbhakoni had submitted that Singh had filed the PIL with “personal interest” and argued that the former CP had made the allegations only after his March 17 transfer to the Home Guards, and he had never raised such issues earlier.

In the previous hearing on March 31, the High Court had asked Singh repeatedly why no FIR was filed on his allegations against Deshmukh. It asked Singh why he had not filed a complaint on his allegations and if he did not have faith in his own police force.

The court, in its 52-page ruling said, “We quite agree that an unprecedented case has come before the court. We also agree with Dr Patil that directions are required for facilitating an unbiased, impartial, fair but effective probe so that the truth is unearthed and the devil, if any, is shamed in accordance with procedure established by law….In fact, what the Constitution envisages is a rule of law and not rule of goons having political support…” While ordering a CBI preliminary inquiry, the HC observed, “We are thus of the view that as the law courts exists for the society, technicalities ought not to stand in the way…Prima facie, the issues are such that the very faith of citizens in the functioning of the police department is at stake. If there is any amount of truth in such allegations, certainly it has a direct effect on citizens’ confidence in the police machinery in the state.”

It added, “Such allegations, therefore, cannot remain unattended and are required to be looked into in manner known to law when, prima facie, they indicate commission of cognizable offence,” the HC noted.

While saying it cannot remain ‘mere spectator’, to the complaints received against high-level officers, the HC remarked, “It is, hence, certainly an issue of credibility of the state machinery, which would stare at the face when confronted with the expectations of law and when such complaints are received against high-ranking public officials. This court cannot be a mere spectator in these circumstances.”

The court added, “Here, Shri Deshmukh is the Home Minister. The police department is under his control and direction. There can be no fair, impartial, unbiased and untainted probe, if the same were entrusted to the state police force. As of necessity, the probe has to be entrusted to an independent agency like the CBI. We also agree with petitioner Patil that directions are required for facilitating an unbiased, impartial, fair but effective probe so that the truth is unearthed and the devil, if any, shamed in accordance with procedure established by law.”

Referring to Patil’s March 21 complaint pending before Malabar Hill police station and bar on HC while ordering CBI “investigation: without FIR, the HC said, “Although we do not see an immediate reason to direct registration of an FIR by the CBI based on Dr. Patil’s complaint, interest of justice, in our opinion, would be sufficiently served if the Director, CBI is directed to initiate a preliminary inquiry into the complaint of Patil which has the letter of Shri Param Bir addressed to the Hon’ble Chief Minister.”

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