HC halts probe in Jarkiholi case as SIT chief on leave
Bengaluru: The Karnataka high court on Tuesday ordered a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the alleged sex-for-job scandal involving former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi to stop its investigation after it transpired that the SIT chief has been on medical leave since 1 May.
The bench, which also barred the SIT from submitting its final report, said it must first examine the legality of the investigation conducted in the absence of Soumendu Mukherjee, the senior Indian Police Service officer who was designated to lead the SIT in March this year.
Ramesh Jarkiholi resigned from the BS Yediyurappa cabinet on March 3 after a video emerged in which a person resembling the minister was seen with an unnamed woman. A self-proclaimed social activist who released the video clip, screenshots and a telephonic conversation, accused the minister of sexually exploiting the woman. The Gokak legislator, however, insisted that he was innocent and after his resignation, linked the accusation to a political conspiracy against him.
The SIT, headed by Somendu Mukherjee, was formed a day after Jarkiholi alleged a political conspiracy.
On Tuesday, the bench of chief justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and justice NS Sanjay Gowda said it couldn’t find any order that empowered another officer to lead the probe.
“We have perused the report dated July 19, filed by Joint Commissioner of Police Crime. In the said report it is mentioned that Soumendu Mukherjee IPS, Additional Commissioner of Police is on medical leave since May 1, 2021. We may note here that under the order dated March 11, which is the subject matter of challenge in two of the four petitions, it is mentioned that Soumendu Mukherjee is the leader of SIT. The question is, in the absence of the head of SIT, whether the investigation could have proceeded,” asked the bench.
The bench said that it was not known if the report submitted on behalf of the SIT had been approved by the head of SIT. “...Therefore, apart from the issue of legality and validity of the constitution of SIT, the issue of the legality of the investigation carried in the absence of the head of SIT will have to be gone into by this court,” the bench added.
The bench directed the Karnataka government and the SIT to respond to the query if the SIT could continue its investigation in the absence of its head when nothing has been placed on record to show that the Bengaluru police commissioner has appointed a new SIT chief.
Senior lawyer Indira Jaisingh, representing the victim, contested the order constituting the SIT and submitted that the team’s probe was “mala fide and shows complete prejudice”.
She also cited a news report on Tuesday that indicated the SIT hasn’t found any evidence to initiate prosecution in the sexual assault case filed by the woman but has found evidence to prosecute the woman and two others who were allegedly involved in extortion from the BJP MLA. It also added that the SIT has proposed to file a closure report in the sexual assault case and a charge sheet in the extortion case
The bench indicated its displeasure at the SIT sharing the report with the media. “Let us first see the report first. Your (SIT) report is of July 19 and if it is leaked in the media then you (SIT) owe an explanation,” the bench said.