The Supreme Court on Tuesday severely rebuked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for frequently changing its stance on registering a corruption case against former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.
"We do not want the CBI to become an instrument in the hands of the central government," a bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph said.
The CBI's stance is alleged to have changed after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government found support from Yadav's Samajwadi Party last year.
The bench rebuked the agency while grilling it on its frequent flip-flops in complying with a March 2007 order of the apex court, which asked the CBI to conduct a preliminary probe to ascertain whether Yadav and his family members owned assets exceeding their legal incomes.
It also observed that it might have erred in ordering the agency on March 1, 2007, to approach the central government for a direction on its next course of action after completing its preliminary probe.
"We are intending to modify our order," said the bench, adding: "We might have made a mistake."
The March 2007 order came on a public interest lawsuit by advocate Vishvanath Chaturvedi.
After conducting its preliminary probe into the allegations, the CBI in October 2007, approached the apex court instead of the central government, hinting that it had a case against Yadav and his family and sought the court's permission to lodge it.
"It is submitted that the CBI has concluded its (preliminary) enquiry and is willing to place the status report before this court for perusal, if necessary," the CBI had told the court last year in its application.
"It is submitted if a preliminary enquiry by the CBI discloses commission of offences by the persons concerned, a regular case is registered and investigated as per the law," the CBI had said, hinting that it had found prima facie evidence that assets owned by Yadav and his family exceeded their legal incomes, amounting to commission of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Yet the CBI did not approach the central government as per the court order and sought the court's permission instead for registering a case, apparently to ward off the allegation of witch-hunting and political vendetta by the government.
Meanwhile, Yadav's Samajwadi Party extended the crucial outside support to the government in the July 2008 trust vote.
With the Samajwadi Party becoming the government's crucial ally, the CBI again approached the court in December last year, saying it did not want the apex court to take a call on the question of registering a graft case against Yadav and his family.
In its December 2008 application, the CBI sought the court's permission to withdraw its October 2007 application, in which it had asserted: "In the matter of the registration of a case, the CBI does not make a reference either to the central government or the state government."
While hearing the CBI's December 2008 plea on Tuesday, the bench referred to its assertions in the October 2007 application and asked, "You, as CBI, do not want to report to the central or the state government. What's wrong with your original prayer?"
"We do not want to fetter your right (to probe criminal cases). We wish to give you complete freedom," said the bench.
For the paucity of time, the bench, however, failed to complete the hearing, which it adjourned till January 27.