Apex court to hear Deshmukh’s plea against CBI probe into graft charges today
The Supreme Court will on Thursday take up petitions by the Maharashtra government and its former home minister Anil Deshmukh against the Bombay high court order on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allegations of extortion against Deshmukh, who resigned soon after that verdict.
A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta will examine the petitions that have challenged the HC order citing “federal structure” and “misuse of central agencies” such as CBI.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are expected to appear for Deshmukh and the state government respectively. Former attorney general and senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi will represent former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh, whose allegations prompted the high court to order the CBI probe on Monday, although the order itself was in response to a related public interest litigation filed by a lawyer.
Singh alleged that Deshmukh asked policemen, including suspended officer Sachin Vaze, to extort ₹100 crore from bars, restaurants, and other establishments. The allegations followed drama over police investigations into the discovery of an explosives-laden vehicle outside the residence of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and the alleged murder of businessman, Mansukh Hiran, linked to the vehicle. Vaze was arrested and has been named the main accused in both cases; Singh was transferred out for his handling of the case; soon after, Singh wrote to the chief minister airing his allegations and then approached the court.
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On Tuesday night, CBI issued a statement saying the agency has registered a PE (preliminary enquiry) to investigate allegations against Deshmukh, as ordered by the Bombay high court.
In his petition, Deshmukh contended that the CBI probe against him “impacts the federal structure”, and could lead to a “biased investigation”, apart from destabilising the state government.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Deshmukh emphasised that the high court, relying on certain unsubstantiated allegations by Singh, entrusted the probe to an agency “which the state government has the least confidence in”. He also pointed out that the high court did not give him an opportunity to be heard before it passed the impugned order.
Deshmukh resigned on Monday, hours after the order by the high court asking CBI to conclude a preliminary inquiry within 15 days, making him the most high-profile casualty so far in the twists and turns over the discovery of the explosives and the death of Hiran.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government, in its separate petition, has complained that the CBI investigation was ordered without any fact or formal pleadings and that the central agency was brought in without letting the state agencies first conduct their investigation.
It also argued out that the state, for valid reasons, has already withdrawn its general consent to CBI to carry out investigations in Maharashtra, and that the high court should have remained mindful of this aspect before ordering the probe.
The state further highlighted that Maharashtra has already ordered a judicial probe into the allegations on March 30 by retired Bombay HC judge KU Chandiwal and that the high court could not have straightaway passed the order on a CBI probe without examining the formal pleadings and submissions of the state.