SC asks Param Bir Singh to move Bombay HC
New Delhi The Supreme Court on Wednesday commented that it was all “hunky-dory” between former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh and Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh for a long time before they fell out, and asked Singh to approach the Bombay high court for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe against Deshmukh for allegedly running a “money collection scheme” through the police, the subject of a plea by the former top cop in the apex court.
The move provides a temporary respite to both Deshmukh and the state government, which has rallied behind the home minister despite vocal calls for his resignation from several quarters, most notably the opposition Bharatija Janata Party.
Singh was transferred to a low-key post in Mumbai Police’s home guards on March 17 over his mishandling of a case where explosives were found in an abandoned vehicle outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s residence Antilia and the subsequent arrest of suspended police officer Sachin Vaze in the case.
On Wednesday, a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R Subhas Reddy declined to entertain Singh’s petition in the first instance, recording in its order that the high court had wider powers under Article 226 (writ jurisdiction) and that it could also examine the need for a probe by a central agency.
“We have no doubt that the matter is quite serious and affects the administration at large. It also appears that a lot of material which has come in (the) public domain is a consequence of the personae falling out,” noted the court in its order, as it further took note that the high court could also examine an August 2020 report by former commissioner of state intelligence Rashmi Shukla regarding corruption and the involvement of middlemen in police postings in Maharashtra.
“Concerned parties have been hunky-dory for a long period and now they have fallen apart...Here is an issue relating to two personae till the time it erupted in the public glare. One person moved out and then they started saying something against each other. The question for you is why not go to the high court under Article 226?” the bench asked senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who represented Singh.
Rohatgi sought to persuade the bench by listing out several cases, including the Hathras rape and murder case from Uttar Pradesh, in which the Supreme Court directly entertained writ petitions and passed orders. He added that Singh’s petition raised matters of great public interest affecting the citizens of the country.
“Agreed, we also note and record that it is a serious issue. But why should the high court not do it under Article 226? You want investigation by an independent agency and that also can be done by the high court. You (Singh) are a directly affected person. You should go to the high court first,” justice Kaul told Rohatgi. The bench also pointed out that Singh has not made Deshmukh a party to his petition despite making a spate of accusations against the home minister.
When Rohatgi said that this was a case of political interference in the police department in violation of the Supreme Court ruling in the Prakash Singh case of 2006 that sought to insulate the police machinery, justice Kaul retorted: “Has any state enforced Prakash Singh? No state wants to let go of its power. No reform has taken place despite Prakash Singh and as soon as an episode happens, everyone remembers our judgments.”
The court added: “In our view, this is only a mantra recited periodically, wherever the occasion so suits, and there has been no seriousness by all concerned to ever implement the directions enshrined in the judgment.”
Rohatgi then opted to withdraw the petition with the liberty to urgently move the Bombay high court and seek a hearing. “I will approach the high court today afternoon itself. I will also request the high court for a hearing on Thursday,” Rohatgi told the bench.
He also urged the Supreme Court to record that the high court should take up the case on Thursday since CCTV footage from Deshmukh’s residence was not being handed over to the NIA (National Investigation Agency) by the ATS (anti-terrorism squad) and that Singh apprehended that the evidence of meetings between Deshmukh and Vaze could be destroyed.
Justice Kaul, however, told Rohatgi that as a matter of principle, his bench did not fix dates of hearing before the high courts since they were also constitutional courts and must be allowed to decide such housekeeping issues on their own.
The bench then disposed of the matter and added Deshmukh and the NIA as parties to Singh’s petition on Rohatgi’s request.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta remained present during the proceedings on behalf of the central government and CBI but did not make any submission as the matter was sent to the high court.
In his petition before the top court, Singh said he was transferred to home guards “immediately” after he brought the corrupt practices of Deshmukh to the knowledge of Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and some other senior leaders in the state government.
The petition contended that NCP leader Deshmukh held various meetings in February 2021 at his residence with police officers, including Sachin Vaze of the Crime Intelligence Unit, Mumbai, and Sanjay Patil, ACP (Social Service Branch), Mumbai, bypassing their seniors, and asked them to collect ₹100 crore every month from establishments such as bars, hookah parlours and restaurants.
Singh submitted he was being made a “scapegoat to divert attention” in the Antilia case, highlighting that while there were vertically five officers between him and Vaze, Deshmukh was the one meeting Vaze at his residence.
In that case, now being investigated by NIA, Vaze has already been arrested. The state ATS has also named Vaze the main accused in the death of Mansukh Hiran who was in possession of the vehicle found with the explosives, but reported it stolen a few days before the incident.