The tussle between the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government and the Opposition led by the BJP is not only playing out in the political field but also in courtrooms. Even in cases where there is no direct face-off, they have tried to use the cases to score political points.
The BJP and Centre seem to be holding the upper hand. As it reaches the half-way mark, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government finds two of its ministers in jail, and several court reservals on its hand, including on Maratha and OBC reservations.
Param Bir Singh
As Mumbai Police Commissioner, Singh handled high-profile cases such as the TRP scam and death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. On March 18, 2021, the Maharashtra government removed him in the wake of a security threat outside Mukesh Ambani’s home. Two days later, in an eight-page letter to CM Thackeray, Singh levelled allegations regarding then Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Deshmukh subsequently resigned and was arrested in November by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). He remains in custody.
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Singh himself evaded appearance before court, and on October 28, a court issued a non-bailable warrant against him in connection with a case of extortion, followed by another court declaring him a proclaimed offender. The government suggested he may have left the country with the help of the Centre. He was suspended from his post.
On November 22, in a major setback to the MVA government, the Supreme Court granted protection from arrest to Singh. The state government missed the bus on filing a caveat, which would have given it an opportunity to be heard and press its case against the former commissioner.
Then, in another setback, on March 24, 2022, nearly a year after the Bombay High Court Bench initiated a preliminary enquiry against Deshmukh based on allegations made by Singh, the Supreme Court transferred investigations against the former Mumbai top cop to the CBI. Singh had challenged a Bombay High Court order refusing to transfer the cases to the CBI.
The Supreme Court said it was not a reflection on the state police, but flagged “the troubling situation arising at the higher echelons, which has brought about the scenario as presented before us”. The Supreme Court specifically referred to the timing of the FIRs against Singh.
On April 21, 2021, Deshmukh filed a plea against the CBI case against him. In July, the Bombay High Court dismissed his petition, followed by the Supreme Court on August 18, 2021.
The High Court also dismissed a separate plea filed by the Maharashtra government for setting aside of two paragraphs from the CBI FIR against Deshmukh and other unknown persons. On April 5 last year, it initiated a CBI PE against Deshmukh, rejecting the state government’s request for time.
In October 2021, the High Court rejected Deshmukh’s plea against the summons issued by the ED. While the HC granted him liberty to move an anticipatory bail plea before a competent court, no such plea was filed by Deshmukh. In the wee hours of November 2, 2021, the ED arrested the NCP leader based on the CBI FIR.
The MVA government then approached the High Court seeking a court-monitored probe into the investigation against Deshmukh, alleging that the Centre was using investigating agencies to target its ministers and leaders. On December 15, 2021, the High Court dismissed the plea, saying the CBI’s contention that the state did not want the probe to proceed further “was not baseless”.
The Maharashtra government then approached the Supreme Court. It also cited apprehension of bias, as former Maharashtra DGP Subodh Jaiswal was now the CBI chief. But, on April 11, 2022, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the state’s application, saying: “It is a complete red herring… thought the state will see some sense.”
Malik burst into the national limelight in October last year, after the arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan, when he accused Sameer Wankhede, the then Narcotics Control Bureau officer overseeing the case, of foisting false drug charges and acting as a “BJP pawn” to harass political opponents. He held a series of press conferences over the next few days making a series of allegations against Wankhede and the BJP.
The NCB, led by Wankhede, had months earlier arrested Malik’s son-in-law in connection with another drugs case.
On February 21, 2022, Malik appeared before the High Court seeking withdrawal of a show-cause notice issued against him in a defamation suit filed by Dhyandev Wankhede, the father of Sameer Wankhede.
The next day, a Bench granted interim protection from coercive steps to Sameer Wankhede, who had sought that a case registered against him for allegedly falsifying his age to obtain a liquor licence be set aside.
On February 23, Malik was arrested by the ED, on charges of alleged money laundering and active involvement in terror funding in connection with a 1999 land deal with don Dawood Ibrahim’s sister.
He continues to remain in custody.
On March 15, 2022, the High Court refused to direct the release of Malik in the ED case. Last month, the Supreme Court dismissed Malik’s appeal against the HC order.
Cases against BJP and MVA leaders
Among the other MVA leaders facing ED heat are the Shiv Sena’s Anandrao Adsul and Pratap Sarnaik, and NCP leader Eknath Khadse. The High Court has refused the plea for anticipatory bail by Adsul, a former Union minister — Adsul is booked for an alleged Rs 980-crore fraud at City Co-operative Bank – and Parnaik, but given interim protection from arrest to Khadse in a Pune land deal case.
BJP leaders Narayan Rane, Pravin Darekar, Kirit Somaiya, Girish Mahajan, Ganesh Naik and Nitesh Rane have cases registered against them by the Maharashtra Police, but have got relief from the High Court.
On April 14, a day after the High Court granted interim protection from arrest to Somaiya, in the alleged INS Vikrant cheating case, the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut said there are people with “a certain ideology” in the judiciary and that those associated with a certain party were getting relief from courts. NCP leader and state Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil echoed him.
As an association of lawyers filed a PIL against Raut and others, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said the judiciary’s shoulders are “broad enough” for remarks against it and “let anyone say anything about it”. He has kept the PIL pending.
Documents leak case
Senior IPS officer and former state intelligence chief Rashmi Shukla challenged a Mumbai Police FIR against unidentified persons in an “illegal” phone tapping case. Later, the High Court granted interim protection from arrest to Shukla in FIRs filed against her for allegedly tapping phone calls of MVA leaders.
Shukla’s lawyer claimed it were MVA ministers Jitendra Awhad and Nawab Malik who had leaked the evidence on which her report, which claimed that there was corruption in police transfers in the state, was based and not former BJP CM Devendra Fadnavis, as claimed by the state government.
The Maharashtra government then approached a Metropolitan Magistrate’s court in Mumbai in December against the Union Home Secretary reportedly seeking documents in connection with the FIR filed by the Mumbai Police over the alleged phone tapping. The government cited for this a claim by former CM Fadnavis that he had submitted documents to the Union Home Secretary over alleged corruption in transfers of police officers.
The government’s application sought access to these documents. The Union government countered that the state was on a “roving inquiry”, and had not specified which documents it was seeking.
In January 2022, a magistrate court passed an order in the state government’s favour, stating that the Union Ministry had not denied receipt of the documents and these were necessary for a police probe. The Union government has since challenged the order before the Sessions Court, which is pending hearing.
In a big embarrassment to the Maharashtra government, the Supreme Court in January this year set aside the one-year suspension of 12 BJP MLAs from the state Assembly, calling it unconstitutional, substantively illegal and irrational. The court cautioned against such a suspension beyond the period of remainder of a session.
It also said that while public representatives are expected to show statesmanship and not brinkmanship, it must be dealt with as per procedure established by law. This ‘win’ made its way into posters pasted by the BJP in many parts of the city, welcoming their MLAs back to the Assembly, calling it “a slap on the MVA”.
Local Body Elections
On May 4, the Supreme Court asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to notify the election schedule for local bodies within two weeks on the basis of a previous delimitation exercise, rejecting the state’s stand that it be done only after a fresh delimitation exercise.
The apex court said that since the five-year term of around 2,486 local bodies in the state had expired, the exercise to conduct elections could not be delayed.
Earlier, in March this year, the Supreme Court rejected an interim report of the State Backward Classes Commission, which had recommended restoration of the 27% quota for OBCs in local bodies. The BJP is targeting the MVA government over thts order.
The Supreme Court has passed the same order regarding other states since.
In May last year, the Supreme Court struck down provisions of a Maharashtra law providing reservation to the Maratha community, which took the total quota in the state above the 50% ceiling set by the Court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment.
The Court order set aside the June 27, 2019, order of the Bombay High Court upholding the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
Fadnavis accused the MVA government of failing to put forth a proper defence before the Court. CM Uddhav put the ball in the Centre’s court, saying that the Prime Minister and President should take immediate decision on the quota for Marathas, as the Centre had authority on it.
Assembly Speaker’s election and 12 nominated MLCs
On March 9, a High Court Bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta expressed displeasure over “differences” between CM Thackeray and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and advised that the two sit together and sort out issues. With this, the HC dismissed two PILs, including one filed by BJP leader and MLA Girish Mahajan, that challenged amendments made to the procedure of election of the Speaker in the Maharashtra Assembly. Mahajan’s plea in the SC is pending.
Subsequently, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari denied permission to hold polls for Speaker in the Budget Session, stating that the matter was sub-judice. The post remains vacant.
CJ Datta had also referred to the stalemate between the CM and Governor over the nomination of 12 MLCs. On August 13 last year, the court had said that it was “desirable” that Koshyari decide on the recommendations of the state Cabinet on nominating the 12 members, sent on November 6, 2020, at the earliest.
The 12 posts continue to remain vacant.
Kanjurmarg Metro car shed
The fate of Kanjurmarg metro car shed, an important infrastructure project in Mumbai, is hanging in the balance before the Court, amidst a Centre-state dispute. After taking over as CM, Thackeray had announced the scrapping of the under-construction car shed at Aarey Milk Colony and said the project would instead come up on salt pan land at Kanjurmarg. On October 1, 2020, the Mumbai suburban district collector ordered transfer of a 102-acre plot of Kanjurmarg land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
On December 16, 2020, the HC, on the Centre’s plea laying claim to the land, stayed the order. Along with the Centre and state government, at least two other private entities have staked claim to the land.
Last month, Fadnavis said the state government should clear the Metro car shed at Arey and fast track the Metro 3 project for the larger well-being of Mumbaikars.
The HC has asked the Centre and state to resolve the conflict , considering that “escalating costs” had put a burden on public money.
Sushant Singh Rajput case
While a Mumbai Police probe into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020 was ongoing, an FIR had been filed in Patna on the complaint of Rajput’s father against Rhea Chakraborty, his girlfriend. The complaint was on charges including cheating, abetment to suicide. Chakraborty approached the Supreme Court seeking transfer of the Patna FIR to Mumbai Police as it was already probing the suicide.
The Supreme Court transferred the case to the CBI. While clarifying that there was no wrongdoing by the Mumbai Police, it said that obstruction of the Bihar Police team which was in Mumbai “could have been avoided since it gave rise to suspicion on the bona fide of their inquiry”.
This, too, took a political turn with many BJP leaders including Fadnavis hailing the SC decision. The late actor also became a poll issue in the Bihar elections held in 2020. Fadnavis was in-charge of the BJP’s campaign in Bihar.
Two years after the case was transferred, there have been no arrests or reports filed by the CBI in connection with its probe.
Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and two others were arrested by the Mumbai Police in November 2020 saying an interior designer, Anvay Naik, had named them in his suicide note in April 2018, over non-payment of dues owed to him.
On November 11, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the release of Goswami and the others on interim bail on a bond of Rs 50,000 each, stating that personal liberty be upheld.
The same month, granting relief to actor Kangana Ranaut, the Bombay High Court set aside an order issued by the Shiv Sena-run BMC directing demolition of alleged alterations carried out at her Bandra office.
Fadnavis has claimed “abuse of power” by the state government in the two cases.
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