Deshmukh, Maha govt move SC against HC’s order for CBI probe
A day after resigning as Maharashtra’s home minister, Anil Deshmukh moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday and said that the Bombay high court order for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allegations of extortion against him “impacts the federal structure”, and could lead to a “biased investigation”, apart from destabilising the state government.
The Maharashtra government also filed a separate petition in the apex court against the Monday order by the high court, complaining that the CBI investigation was ordered without any fact or formal pleadings and that the central agency was roped in without letting the state agencies first conduct their investigation.
The CBI has registered a preliminary inquiry to investigate allegations against Deshmukh after the Bombay high court order, people familiar with the matter said late on Tuesday.
The high court’s decision to allow the CBI inquiry came after former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh alleged that Deshmukh asked policemen, including suspended officer Sachin Vaze, to extort ₹100 crore from bars, restaurants, and other sources. 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 a man linked to the car.
On Tuesday, the Maharashtra government argued out that the state, for valid reasons, has already withdrawn its general consent to the CBI to carry out investigations in Maharashtra, and that the high court should have remained mindful of this aspect before ordering the probe.
While the two petitions were filed in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Singh -- whose accusations and a petition before the high court led to the preliminary inquiry by CBI -- and another petitioner before the high court , Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil, have also filed their caveat in the apex court to ensure no order is passed without hearing them. The petitions are yet to be assigned a date of hearing.
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 Mansukh Hiran.
As the row reached the Supreme Court, 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”, and that “such processes may well be followed to destabilise the government”.
“In the annals of judicial history, there has hardly been an occasion when the court has taken the statement made against a sitting minister at face value and proceeded to direct an outside agency, without calling from for a response from the concerned minister, to conduct a preliminary inquiry,” said Deshmukh’s plea, filed through advocate Sudhanshu S Choudhri. The petition, which HT has seen, was settled by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is expected to represent Deshmukh in the apex court.
Questioning the credentials of CBI, Deshmukh added that, presently, the agency was also being led by an interim director, and the legality of this ad hoc arrangement was already questioned before the Supreme Court.
He said that the high court should have given sufficient time to the state agencies to carry out the probe at the first instance and only in the case of any lapse should a probe, preferably by a team of officers nominated by the court under its supervision, have been contemplated. But the investigation was handed over to an agency “under the control of the central government”, he added.
“The court chose not to follow that procedure, thereby showing utter lack of confidence in the state machinery as if every investigating officer lacked the confidence of the court in conducting a fair and impartial inquiry,” read Deshmukh’s petition, which added that this assumption was “unsustainable and without any demonstrable reason”.
Requesting the court to stay the order, the petition said the chief reason cited by the high court for a CBI probe was that Deshmukh served as the home minister, but now that he has resigned, the state machinery must be allowed to freely conduct its investigation.
The state government, in its appeal, highlighted that Maharashtra had 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 of a CBI probe without examining the formal pleadings and submissions of the state.
The state’s petition added that the accusations by Singh were unsubstantiated and that there was no justification to hand over the probe to the CBI, whose jurisdiction had been ousted by the Maharashtra government by withdrawing its general consent. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi is expected to argue for the state government’s petition.
Singh first approached the Supreme Court for a CBI probe but was asked to go to the Bombay HC at the first instance. Apart from him, a bunch of public interest litigations were also filed in the high court, which on Monday ordered CBI to complete a preliminary inquiry within 15 days and thereafter proceed in accordance with the legal procedure.