Delhi high court on Thursday said it would appoint an amicus curiae to see if there was any public interest in the graft allegations against Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh levelled by an NGO.
A bench of chief justice G Rohini and justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw also said they would discharge the NGO, Common Cause, while asking how does it decide on "whom to target and whom not to target".
"First we will discharge Common Cause and then we will appoint an amicus curiae, who will examine the records to see if there is any public interest and whether it is a fit case to be entertained," the court said, adding that it will pass a detailed order later.
"How do you decide whom to target and whom not to target? Is there any specific regulation in that regard? We do not find this aspect in your rejoinder," the bench asked the NGO.
The court's oral order came after senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Singh, objected to the maintainability of the PIL, saying the chief minister has imputed "motive" on lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is representing petitioner 'Common Cause'.
Sibal 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 Prashant Bhushan and not 'Common Cause'... Prashant Bhushan himself is a member of Aam Aadmi Party which has a particular ideology and agenda which is in opposition to other major political parties in the country," Sibal contended.
He referred to a list of dates and events relating to alleged allotment of land in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh to 'Kumud Bhushan Education Society' of which Bhushan was a secretary.
Sibal alleged that Bhushan "nurtured enmity towards respondent no. 5 (Singh)" who, as the chief minister, did not approve the proposal on land allocation to the society on November 12, 2006.
Later when the BJP government came to power, the land was allocated to the society in 2010 on grounds that it would be used for the purpose mentioned by the society, he added.
The counsel further alleged that on October 25, 2013 the anti-corruption authorities found that the society violated the condition and hence, the land should come back to the state government.
Observing that the PIL was filed in November 2013 in the high court, Sibal said "from the above factual recital, it is apparent that the present petition has been filed to further the personal grievances/goals of Bhushan, who is admittedly member of the general council of the petitioner (NGO)."
Dealing with the alleged tax violations, Sibal said that the cause of actions have arisen in Himachal Pradesh, so it has nothing to do with Delhi.
Responding to Sibal's contention, additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain, appearing for income tax department, said the argument of territorial jurisdiction would not sustain in this case as the properties under assessment and reassessment were there too.
The NGO, in the PIL, had alleged that Singh, during his earlier tenure as the chief minister and a union minister, was involved in corruption, money laundering and forgery. The charges have been rubbished by Singh.
"In this particular case, the petitioner (NGO) has moved in bad faith. The petitioner should have disclosed all material facts... before invoking the jurisdiction of the court," Sibal said, adding that there should be "CBI enquiry against this gentleman (Bhushan)".
Senior advocate Arvind Nigam, appearing for the NGO, said they have no issues over the appointment of an amicus and if the court wanted, they could give details about when the decision to file the PIL was taken and how it was arrived at.
CBI, which had filed its final status report in sealed cover, contended during the proceedings that it cannot probe the allegations until they have court orders.
The court has now fixed the matter for further hearing on March 26.
The bench had earlier taken note of allegations of receipt of unaccounted money to the tune of nearly Rs 5 crore by the chief minister and filing of revised Income Tax returns for years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 by him and had sought a report and documents from the IT department.
The revised IT returns showed an increase in agricultural income to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore, the PIL has claimed.
The PIL has alleged that Singh has amassed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and sought a court-monitored probe by CBI and the Income Tax department into the charges of money laundering, corruption, disproportionate assets and criminal misconduct.