In a decision that enforces judicial accountability from within, the Supreme Court on Tuesday handed over to CBI the investigation into the multi-crore rupee UP provident scam in which names of judges from the higher judiciary, including one from the apex court, have allegedly cropped up.
The order assumes significance as the Ghaziabad SP, who was probing the case, had expressed difficulty in carrying out the investigations into the scam involving judicial officers.
The Uttar Pradesh government has also given its consent to transfer the probe to the central investigating agency.
Though the apex court entrusted the probe to the CBI asking it to file the status report in three months, it did not pass any specific order at this juncture relating to the probe against the sitting judges which was sought earlier.
Names of 26 members of judiciary, including an apex court judge, seven Allahabad High Court judges, six retired High Court judges and 12 judges from subordinate judiciary in Uttar Pradesh, have allegedly cropped up in the scam probe.
A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat said a three-month time has been given to the investigating agency to give its report but it will not stop it from going ahead with the filing of a final report before the stipulated period.
"The court before which the final report or chargesheet will be filed will deal according to the law," the Bench, also comprising Justices VS Sirpurkar and GS Singhvi, said adding that the status report will also give details on how many persons from outside the Ghaziabad treasury were involved.
In the initial probe into the embezzlement of over Rs seven crore from the PF belonging to Class III and IV staff of the District Court, Ghaziabad, it was found that 39 outsiders were shown as IV grade employees.
In an elaborate order, the Bench said the CBI will nominate the investigating officer, who will be incharge of the probe and it would be open to him to indicate to the Uttar Pradesh Government about the officers/officials whose assistance would be required for comprehensive investigation.
"The state government will place the officials at the disposal of the CBI so that effective investigation can be carried out," the Bench said taking into the consideration the plea of CBI put forward by Solicitor General GE Vahanvati that the Uttar Pradesh Government should take care of the man power and infrastructure facilities for the probe agency.
To allay fears that documents may be tampered with, it said the investigating officer would take appropriate steps for preservation of original records of the investigation and subsequent proceedings.
Further, the investigating officer will take charge of documents already in possession of the state police and reports of the probe conducted till now.
All documents relating to the case will be microfilmed and deposited before the apex court, the copies of which will be handed over to the CBI and the Uttar Pradesh government, the Bench said.
It said several other issues relating to the scandal will be dealt at an appropriate time. "Let us start of the process and at any point other suggestions could be considered," the Bench said during the hearing.
The Ghaziabad Bar Association and the Indian chapter of the Transparency International had sought independent probe into the scandal saying that it would not be possible for the state police to carry out the investigation in a case allegedly involving judicial officials.
Senior advocates Anil Divan and Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the Association and Transparency International, had submitted that retired judicial officers are not protected by any decision of this court which relates to serving judicial officers.
However, the Bench said "the provision should not be dealt with or clarified at this juncture".
Earlier, the scam was probed by the Uttar Pradesh police on the direction of the Allahabad High Court and the state police had got prepared a questionnaire and got it cleared from the Chief Justice of India to go ahead with the investigation.
Later, the lawyers association sought an independent probe by the CBI and the matter snowballed into a major controversy after Transparency International filed a writ petition and sought the recusal of the CJI from hearing the matter on the ground that he, in his administrative side, had already dealt with the case.
However, the controversy did not stop there and when the matter came up for hearing before a bench headed by senior most judge of the apex court Justice BN Agrawal, it was alleged by Bhushan that the court was protecting the judges.
Upset over the allegation, Justice Agrawal also withdrew himself from hearing the matter and it finally reached the Bench headed by Justice Pasayat.