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‘Allegations serious’: SC dismisses Maharashtra, Anil Deshmukh’s pleas

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New Delhi, April 8, 2021-
The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to entertain petitions by the Maharashtra government and former state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, challenging the Bombay High Court order directing a preliminary enquiry by the CBI into corruption allegations levelled by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta said: “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.”

The bench noted that the High Court has only ordered a preliminary enquiry, albeit by an independent agency, and again stressed that matter is serious.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Maharashtra government, argued that the High Court passed the order without examining maintainability of petitions. The High Court adopted a very unusual procedure while ordering a CBI probe against the then Home Minister based on Singh’s allegations, he added.

Singh had accused Deshmukh of setting a collection target of Rs 100 crore from bars and restaurants. The top court observed that two persons closely working together fell apart, the allegations should be verified. “Allegations are serious, curious, the persons involved are: the Commissioner of Police and the former Home Minister,” it said.

The top court was convinced with the Bombay High Court order and without hearing the arguments of opposite parties, dismissed the petitions filed by Maharashtra government and Deshmukh. The top court also declined to accept the contentions made by Singhvi, that merely because the Home Minister has resigned after the High Court order would be a factor not to direct enquiry by an independent agency.

“He (Deshmukh) did not resign when the state set up a Commission of Enquiry. He quit after High Court order. He was clinging to office,” it observed.

During the hearing, the bench also remarked that former Mumbai Police Commissioner, who made the allegations against him, was not Deshmukh’s enemy but instead, “was almost his right-hand man”. The bench stressed that the matter is not a case of political or business rivalry, instead it is a matter where a senior minister and senior police officer are involved.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Deshmukh, submitted that allegations against his client were only hearsay and have no evidentiary value, and cannot become ground for a CBI probe into the matter. As he insisted that his client should have been heard before the High Court passed the order for CBI enquiry, the bench noted that CBI investigation into the matter is not an attack on the federal structure.

The court also rejected Deshmukh’s contention for a probe by either High Court or the top court, saying one cannot pick and choose the investigating agency.

“Further, we are unable to accept the contention of Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel that even for directing a preliminary enquiry, the petitioner 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,” it said.

After a detailed hearing in the matter, the top court declined to interfere with the High Court order and dismissed the petitions.

A division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni on Monday had asked the CBI to complete its “preliminary probe” within 15 days on the issues raised by Singh in his “letter-bomb” last month. Hours after the verdict, Deshmukh quit his post.

Besides Singh’s PIL, the court heard three other pleas – one filed by Ghanshyam Upadhyay seeking a court-monitored SIT, another by Mohan Bhide wanting a retired HC or SC judge to probe the matter, and a third by Jayshri Patil for a probe by the CBI, or any other independent agency. (Agency)

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