Bombay HC directs CBI to conduct ‘preliminary inquiry’ into corruption allegations against Anil Deshmukh

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The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to carry out ‘preliminary inquiry’ into corruption allegations of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Terming the case as ‘extraordinary and unprecedented’, the court asked the CBI to complete the probe within 15 days, after which the CBI director is at liberty to take further course of action.

Three days after he was removed as Mumbai Police Commissioner and posted to the Home Guards, Singh wrote an eight-page letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that Deshmukh asked how suspended and arrested assistant police inspector Sachin Waze to collect Rs 100 crore every month, including Rs 40-50 crore from 1,750 bars and restaurants in Mumbai.

The HC passed a ruling on criminal PIL by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, seeking a CBI probe against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh for alleged malpractices along with other two PILs seeking an independent probe.

The court also passed the order on criminal writ plea by city-based lawyer Jaishri Patil, who, along with an independent probe into allegations, had sought directions to Police to take cognizance of complaint filed by her at Malabar Hill Police station, complaining of corruption by Deshmukh, Singh, and others. Patil had sought registration of FIR in the case.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni said, “We agree with Jaishri Patil that directions are required to order an unbiased probe to unearth the truth. There can be no independent probe if it is given to Police as Deshmukh is HM. The interest of justice will be done if the Director of CBI is allowed to conduct a preliminary inquiry. Such preliminary inquiry is ordered in accordance with law and be concluded within 15 days.”

The bench, while referring to the ‘unprecedented’ situation, said, “It is said that none can see time, but many a time, time makes us see many things hitherto before unseen. So true. The proceedings of which we are seized lays bare incidents, allegations and approaches of a kind which, at least, the two of us have not experienced before.

It added, “It is time that has made us realize that the realities of life would have to be examined to give shape to law, for, law would cease to serve its purpose if justice cannot be administered. With such realization in mind, we now proceed to complete the task at hand.”

HC added, “Here, Shri Deshmukh is the Home Minister. The police department is under his control and direction. There can be no fair, impartial, unbiased and untainted probe, if the same were entrusted to the State Police Force. As of necessity, the probe has to be entrusted to an independent agency like the CBI. We also agree with Patil that directions are required for facilitating an unbiased, impartial, fair but effective probe so that the truth is unearthed and the devil, if any, shamed in accordance with procedure established by law.“

Ordering CBI preliminary inquiry, the HC observed, “We are thus of the view that since the law courts exist for the society, technicalities ought not to stand in the way…Prima facie, the issues are such that the very faith of citizens in functioning of the police department is at stake. If there is any amount of truth in such allegations, certainly it has a direct effect on citizens’ confidence in the police machinery in the State.”

It added, “Such allegations, therefore, cannot remain unattended and are required to be looked into in manner known to law when, prima facie, they indicate commission of cognizable offence,” HC noted in 52-page ruling.

While saying that it cannot remain ‘mute spectator,’ to the complaints received against high level officers, the HC remarked, “It is, hence, certainly an issue of credibility of State machinery, which would stare at face when confronted with the expectations of law and when such complaints are received against high-ranking public officials. This Court cannot be a mere spectator in these circumstances.

Referring to Patil’s complaint pending before Malabar Hill Police station and bar on HC while ordering CBI ‘investigation’ without FIR, the HC said CBI need not register FIR immediately or take up Patil’s complaint. The court also granted ‘liberty to Singh to make a grievance, if any, before an appropriate forum.’

Patil’s plea sought directions to secure CCTV footage of places where alleged criminal conspiracy took place in the Ambani house bomb scare case as per Param Bir Singh’s letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Deshmukh has denied the allegations against him.

In the previous hearing, the High Court had asked Singh repeatedly why no FIR was filed on his allegations against the Maharashtra Home Minister. It asked Singh why he had not filed a complaint on his allegations and if he did not have faith in his own police force. Chief Justice CJ Datta asked Singh, “Where is FIR? You have to approach the police/agency with FIR. Our prima facie observation [with respect to prayer seeking CBI probe] is that there cannot be investigation without FIR,” the bench said, questioning the maintainability of the PIL.

In his plea, Singh further said in August 2020, Rashmi Shukla, then Commissioner Intelligence, state intelligence department, had brought to the notice of the DGP about corruption in postings and transfers in Maharashtra. The DGP in turn had brought it to the knowledge of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home).

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