The Delhi High Court on Thursday appointed an amicus curiae to assist it on the "maintainability" of a petition levelling charges of criminal misconduct and corruption against Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. A bench of chief justice G Rohini and justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw also discharged the NGO, Common Cause, which had filed a public interest litigation seeking direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the directorate general of income tax to initiate an investigation under the court's supervision into the allegations of money laundering and corruption against Virbhadra.
The court's order came after senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Virbhadra, objected to the maintainability of the PIL, saying the chief minister had imputed "motive" on lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who represents the petitioner.
During arguments earlier, Sibal had said in such a situation the court should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a PIL. "Another element to be considered in this particular case is the fact that the real petitioner is Bhushan and not Common Cause...Bhushan is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party that has a particular ideology and agenda, which is in opposition to other major political parties in the country," he had then contended.
The court observed in its order: "Though senior counsel for the petitioner (the NGO) has refuted that the present petition is a result of the animosity between its member and Virbhadra Singh and has sought to highlight the distinction between the member and the petitioner, but the senior counsel for Singh has drawn attention to the initial complaint and argued that the same was not by the petitioner but by the said member and has contended that only the name of the petitioner is used to settle personal score of the said member of the petitioner.
"We have suggested, that instead of us adjudicating as to the bona fides of the petitioner in maintaining this petition, the petitioner be discharged from this petition and an amicus curiae be appointed to assist this court to determine the maintainability of the petition...
"Accordingly, the petitioner is discharged from present petition. Senior advocate N Hariharan and advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, who have graciously agreed, are appointed as the amicus curiae to assist us in the matter. They are requested to go through the materials/records to be supplied to them by the court master, uninfluenced by the contentions of the petitioner, and to assist us on the aspect of maintainability/entertainability of this petition," the court said.
The matter was posted for further consideration to May 14. During the hearing earlier, Sibal had referred to a list of dates and events relating to alleged allotment of land in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh to the 'Kumud Bhushan Education Society' of which Bhushan was a secretary. He had alleged the latter "nurtured enmity towards Singh" who as chief minister did not approve a proposal to allocate land to the society on November 12, 2006.
When the BJP government came to power, the land was allotted to the society in 2010 on grounds that it would be used for the purpose mentioned by the society, he had said.
The counsel had alleged that on October 25, 2013 officials of the state's anti-corruption bureau found the society had violated the stipulated conditions and hence the land should be returned to the state government.
Observing that the PIL was filed in November 2013 in the high court, Sibal had said: "From the above factual recital, it's apparent that the present petition has been filed to further the personal grievances/goals of Bhushan, who is admittedly a member of the general counsel of the petitioner (the NGO)."
Dealing with the alleged tax violations, Sibal had said that the cause of actions has arisen in Himachal Pradesh and therefore, it has nothing to do with Delhi.
In its PIL the NGO had alleged that Virbhadra, during his earlier tenure as chief minister and also as a central minister, was involved in corruption, money laundering and forgery. However, Virbhadra has refuted the charges.
The bench had earlier taken note of allegations of receipt of unaccounted money to the tune of nearly Rs 5 crore by Virbhadra and filing of revised income tax returns for the accounting years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 by him and had sought a report and documents from the income tax department.
The revised tax returns showed an increase in agricultural income to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore, the PIL has claimed. It has alleged Virbhadra had amassed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and sought a court-monitored probe into the matter by the CBI and the income tax department.