The Bombay High Court on Thursday refused to quash the first information report registered against former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh by the Central Bureau of Investigation on charges of corruption, reported Bar and Bench.
Senior advocate Amit Desai, appearing for Deshmukh, argued that the case involved important questions of law that need to be studied for taking appropriate steps. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, contended that no question of law was involved.
Desai told the High Court that the CBI had failed to obtain approval under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act from the Maharashtra government before beginning their court-ordered preliminary inquiry. He said that this made the entire enquiry illegal.
“We live in a society with the presumption of dishonesty,” Deshmukh’s counsel said, reported Live Law. “Therefore an allegation becomes enough.”
On March 20, former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh had accused Deshmukh of extorting money from bars, restaurants and hookah parlours in Mumbai. In his letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Singh wrote that suspended police officer Sachin Vaze told him that Deshmukh had asked him to collect Rs 100 crore every month through illegal channels.
Though Deshmukh has constantly denied any impropriety, he resigned from the state Cabinet on April 5 after the Bombay High Court directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into allegations against him. On April 8, the Supreme Court had dismissed the Maharashtra government and Deshmukh’s petitions to cancel the CBI inquiry against him.
The CBI had then filed an FIR against Deshmukh on April 24 in connection with the corruption case. The Nationalist Congress Party leader had moved the Bombay High Court on May 3, seeking quashing the FIR.
During Thursday’s hearing, Desai cited Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and argued that the central agency needed to take consent of the Maharashtra government before starting their preliminary inquiry and before registering the FIR.
Desai said that the CBI repeatedly spoken about extortion but the FIR did not include any section on extortion. The advocate said that it could be presumed that the CBI did not find any evidence of extortion and so it was not mentioned in the FIR.
He also argued that the FIR does not disclose a cognisable offense, as it contains no facts and only unfounded allegations. On the restrictions under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Lekhi said that it would not apply as the CBI was following the High Court’s order and that Deshmukh’s actions were not part of his official duty.
Section 17A of the Act could not be used as a shield to protect a wrongdoer, he told the court.
After hearing the arguments, the court observed that no substantial question of law was involved and said that no stay would be necessary. The High Court also observed that “if true and practical meaning” is to be given to the High Court’s order directing a preliminary enquiry, everyone’s role should be investigated.
Lekhi assured the court that all parties involved would be investigated.
CBI can look into reinstatement of Sachin Vaze: Bombay HC
In a related case, the Bombay High Court said that the CBI can inquire into the transfer and postings of police personnel and the reinstatement of Vaze in the police force, reported PTI.
A division bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar also dismissed the petition filed by the Maharashtra government, seeking to set aside two paragraphs from the CBI’s FIR against Deshmukh.
One of the paragraphs mentioned that the CBI in its preliminary report had found that Deshmukh was aware that now suspended Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze was reinstated into the police after 15 years and that sensitive and sensational cases were given to him.
The second paragraph said that Deshmukh exercised “undue influence” over the transfer and postings of police officers. The complaints about corruption in postings and transfers were lodged by Rashmi Shukla, the additional director general of the Central Reserve Police Force’s South Zone, reported PTI.
The High Court said that directing the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry against Deshmukh cannot be construed as giving unfettered authority to the central agency to inquire into transfers and postings of police personnel in general.
“The CBI, a premier investigating agency, can and must be allowed to take responsibility and authority in the investigation and with an assurance that it shall act in accordance with law,” the court said.
The state government, in its plea filed on April 30, had claimed that it does not want to interfere in the CBI’s investigation against Deshmukh and others beyond these two allegations, which were not mandated to be investigated according to the High Court order.