Bombay HC directs CBI to conduct preliminary inquiry against Anil Deshmukh

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday directed CBI to conduct preliminary inquiry in to corruption allegations against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. ‘CBI inquiry shall be completed in 15 days, then CBI Director can decide the further course of action in accordance with law’, ordered the bench in a PIL filed by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and three other similar petitions.

On Wednesday, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni reserved its order on the petitions, following marathon arguments on admission, interim reliefs and the State’s objection to the petition’s maintainability. Ex- Mumbai Police Chief Param Bir Singh had sought an “immediate and fair investigation” on the various “corrupt malpractices” of Maharashtra’s Home Minister Anil Deshmukh before “evidences are destroyed.” He further sought a direction to the state government against police transfers for any pecuniary benefits to any politicians or in contravention of the guidelines issued in Prakash Singh & others vs Union of India.

Justice NV Ramana The bench expressed its dilemma over passing an order for an investigation in the absence of an FIR. “An FIR is the first step into setting the criminal law in motion,” CJ Datta observed. Justice Datta frowned at the practice of approaching the Courts seeking directions for an independent probe, without even approaching the police to register an FIR. The bench observed that just writing letters to the CM (as Param Bir had done), wasn’t enough.

“You (Param Bir Singh) are a police officer. If you find an offence has been committed you are duty-bound to file an FIR. Why did you not do it? You are failing in your duty if you don’t file an FIR when you know an offence has been committed. Simply writing letters to the CM won’t do.

” In an eight-page letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray on March 20, Singh accused Deshmukh of holding meetings with subordinate police officers, including suspended API Sachin Waze, and seeking a collection of Rs 100 crore from the 1750 bars and restaurants, in Mumbai. Deshmukh has denied the allegations. During the hearing, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni raised a preliminary objection of maintainability against Singh’s PIL, stating that the latter is “vitally interested” in both the prayers in the PIL. Singh had written the letter three days after he was shunted out of the Mumbai Police Commissionerate and took charge as the Commandant General Home Guards.

Senior Advocate Vikram Nankani, appearing for Singh submitted that the allegations have been levelled by a person who occupied the “highest police post” and it is something that needs to be looked into by an independent investigating agency. He read out Singh’s letter and also referred to a report by former Commissioner (intelligence) to the Director-General of Police, Rashmi Shukla’s report regarding pecuniary benefits from police transfers, to submit that the issue is “related to interference by political masters.” Nankani said Singh was not challenging his transfer.

Towards the end of the hearing, Nankani submitted he was only seeking an independent inquiry by the CBI if an investigation was not possible. When Nankani argued that the court’s powers are wide, the bench said that it was only in very rare cases that it can order an FIR. Moreover, the correct course of action would be to approach the Magistrate Court under section 156(3) of the CrPC.

The bench asked Singh if he had annexed affidavits from the concerned officers who were asked to make the collection to which he replied in the negative. “Is there any first-hand information that the Home Minister said something in your presence? Is there an affidavit annexed of any of the officers that this was said to them or in their presence,” asked the CJ.

The court also heard a writ petition by Advocate Jaishri Laxmirao Patil and criminal PILs by advocate Ghanshyam Upadhyay and Chartered Accountant Mohan Bhide. Patil and Upadhyay have sought independent investigations, while Bhide has sought a judicial inquiry. However, only Patil had approached the Malabar Hill Police to register an FIR. On an enquiry made by the court, it was revealed that the Malabar Hill Police had not recorded Patil’s complaint in their station diary.

The court heard Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh for the CBI, who said the agency was willing to take over the probe. Param Bir Singh was represented by Senior Advocates Vikram Nankani, Birendra Saraf and Sharan Jagtiani along with advocate Subodh Desai, Sunny Punamia and Akshay Bafna. Upadhyay was represented by Advocate Subhash Jha, assisted by Advocate Hare Krishna Mishra.

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