The Union government has turned down a request from India’s premier investigating agency to prosecute Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on charges of bribery.
The refusal was conveyed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April, a few days before the Manmohan Singh government completed its first five-year tenure, said a highly placed source in the Law Ministry, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The case had rocked the nation after a packet containing Rs 15 lakh was wrongly delivered to the official Chandigarh residence of a newly-appointed High Court judge with a similar-sounding name, Nirmaljit Kaur, on August 13, 2008, apparently as a bribe for a land deal.
The Chandigarh police started an investigation when Justice Kaur complained and the CBI now says it has evidence to prove the Rs 15 lakh “wrongly” delivered at the official residence of Justice Kaur was actually to be delivered to Justice Yadav, who was to allegedly use the money to buy land in Solan, Himachal Pradesh.
The case was handed over to the CBI by Punjab Governor Gen SF Rodrigues (retd) in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice TS Thakur.
In its report, parts of which were made available to HT, the CBI said it had evidence to prosecute Justice Yadav. The Union government’s Ministry of Personnel, acting on advice from the Law Ministry, said the evidence was insufficient.
Law Minister M Veerappa Moily refused comment.
Permission to prosecute a high court judge can only be given by the President of India — after being cleared by the Union government on the advice of the Chief Justice of India.
“I have always maintained there was no truth in the allegations,” Justice Yadav told the Hindustan Times.
In December 2008, when the Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan asked her to “explain her conduct”, she said she was being made a “scapegoat merely because my first name is similar to the judge to whom the cash was delivered”.
The CBI refused to comment. “On the judges’ inquiry issue, we (the CBI) have taken a policy decision not to discuss anything with the media,” said CBI spokesman Harsh Bhal.
After a case was registered in Chandigarh, the police had arrested then Haryana Additional Advocate General Sanjiv Bansal, property dealer Rajiv Gupta and a Delhi-based hotelier Ravinder Singh, among others. Bansal and Gupta told officers the money was meant for Justice Yadav.
The CBI — after interrogating all the suspects and witnesses and examining their mobile-phone records — said in its report, there was “enough evidence” to establish the link between the Justice Yadav, Bansal and Singh, both of whom are now out of bail.
In most cases in which former Haryana Additional Advocate General Bansal appeared before Justice Yadav in the Punjab and Haryana High court, judgments were passed in Bansal’s favour, the CBI report said.