The Supreme Court today dismissed the appeal filed by the Maharashtra government and former State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh challenging the Bombay High Court order allowing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations made by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
The Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta noted in its order,
“De hors the niceties of an elaborate order passed by the High Court, we are of the view that the nature of allegations, the personas involved and the seriousness of the allegations do require an independent agency to enquire into the matter. It is a matter of public confidence given the factual scenario.”
Appearing for the Maharashtra government, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi pointed out that the High Court had failed to address the question of maintainability of the petitions before it.
In response, Justice Kaul said,
“All these problems are arising because of the fall out that has happened. Allegations are extremely serious and it becomes curious and curious. In this scenario is it not a CBI probe case?”
Singhvi then pointed out that Maharashtra had withdrawn general consent to CBI probes long ago. He said that the CBI could not investigate without the State government’s consent, unless a High Court or the Supreme Court calls for a probe.
“But here it only says preliminary enquiry. Here you order preliminary enquiry and not investigation…CBI reference becomes a ground to circumvent Section 156 (CrPC) also,” Singhvi contended.
At this point, Justice Kaul said,
“He (Deshmukh) did not resign when commission of inquiry was ordered. He ordered after the High Court order. He was clinging to his office…
…Looking at the personas involved and the seriousness of allegations, an independent inquiry is called for. You can’t say it affects the federal structure. This does not happen every day. Both have been heads of institution where something has gone wrong.”
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Deshmukh, asked to be heard before an order is passed.
“If I make an allegation against a Minister not supported by evidence, can a CBI probe be ordered? There is no value in law.”
When Justice Kaul pointed out Param Bir Singh’s letter, Sibal replied,
“That has no evidentiary value. It’s like giving a press conference.”
When Sibal suggested that the probe be conducted by the High Court or the Supreme Court, Justice Kaul said that he could not choose the investigating agency.
Supreme Court in its order notes that it is “unable to accept the contention of Sibal, that even for directing a preliminary enquiry, the petitioner Mr. Anil Deshmukh is mandatorily entitled to be heard in his individual capacity even though the State Government was represented and he was a Minister at that time.”
On Justice Gupta’s query as to whether a suspect of a CBI probe could be heard, Sibal replied,
“It’s a preliminary enquiry. I am not an accused or a suspect.”
Calling into question Singh’s allegations, Sibal said,
“There is no material or facts. These are hearsay statements…Sachin Waze tells another person and then that person tells Bhujbal and Bhujbal tells the Police Commissioner and then Police Commissioner makes this statement.”
However, after hearing the parties, the Court dismissed the pleas. It rejected Singhvi’s contention that Deshmukh’s resignation after the High Court order would preclude the need for a probe by an independent investigating agency. Sibal’s argument that Deshmukh is mandatorily entitled to be heard in his individual capacity even for a preliminary enquiry was also rejected.
Param Bir Singh was represented by Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Vikram Nankani, along with Advocates Utsav Trivedi and Advocate-on- Record Abhinay.
The Special Leave Petitions against the High Court verdict were filed on Tuesday on the ground that the High Court had passed a final order on the merits of the petition, though the case was listed for hearing on maintainability.
The Maharashtra government has primarily submitted that no pleadings and facts were before the High Court to justify a CBI inquiry against a sitting Minister.
In his plea, Anil Deshmukh has stated that never before have allegations against a sitting Minister been “taken on face value” and an “outside agency” been directed to conduct an inquiry without calling for a response from the Minister to conduct a preliminary enquiry.
Referring to the CBI as an “outside agency”, Deshmukh submitted that the Bombay High Court order paints the entire State machinery as “untrustworthy”, as it opined that no probe could have been conducted by a State investigating agency.
Earlier this week, the Bombay High Court had allowed the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations of malpractices by Deshmukh.
However, since the State has already initiated a probe by a high-level committee into the matter, the High Court added that the CBI need not immediately register an FIR in the case. The Bench said that the preliminary probe should be completed in 15 days and that the CBI can decide on the future course of action after this preliminary inquiry is completed.
On the question of maintainability, the Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni held that it would not like to address the issue.
“Be that as it may, we do not wish to be drawn into the larger controversy raised on the aspect of maintainability of the PIL of Shri Param Bir and of Shri Upadhyay. The controversy, in our considered opinion, which is common to these petitions, can be taken care of within a narrow compass by deciding whether, if at all, and to what extent, if any, action on the complaint of Dr. Patil should be directed to be taken,” the High Court said.
Soon after the verdict, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh resigned from the post.