Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Rule of law is not Rule of Goons with political support

  • Mumbai HC orders CBI probe into 100 crore bribe allegation

Now it is clear, the CBI will probe the Maharashtra Police on the allegation of 100 crore bribe which caused sensation all over the nation. It is difficult to believe that Bars run according to rules and that they will never get to render bribes to police. Is it regular? Will it run into hundreds of crores of rupees? Where does this money go and who will share? We do not know. Our suspicions however strong they may be, cannot prove the bribery allegation. Most of the people tend to believe this is possible.

When Param Bir Singh, who was shunted out of Police Commissioner of Mumbai makes a direct allegation against his former and present political boss the Home Minister, Anil Deshmukh, it stirred the nation. How can a fact become truth without probe and proof? Who will probe whom? The CBI is also a police force that must work under political boss like the police. Now the scene is set. The CBI the subordinate of Union Government will probe the allegations against Home Minister made by senior police officer in Maharashtra which is not being ruled by the party that rules the Union.

Background:

On February 25, 2021, a First Information Report bearing no.35 of 2021 was registered with the Gamdevi Police Station, Mumbai, upon a vehicle parked at Altamount Road near Antilia, the residence of industrialist Shri Mukesh Ambani, laden with explosives was detected. Since the explosive substances were suspected to be used for committing an offence, investigation commenced at the instance of the Anti-Terrorist Squad. In due course of time, the National Investigation Agency (hereafter “the NIA”) started conducting simultaneous investigation. Soonthereafter, the owner of the vehicle died under mysterious circumstances. During the course of its investigation, the NIA arrested Shri Sachin Vaze (hereafter “Shri Vaze”), a police officer attached to the Crime Branch, Mumbai. Upon such arrest, the role of Shri Vaze came under the scanner and certain incriminating materials were seized.

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On March 17, 2021, the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai Police, Shri Param Bir Singh (hereafter “Shri Param Bir”) was transferred and posted as the Commandant General of Home Guards and Civil Defence,Maharashtra State. Simultaneously, Shri Hemant Nagrale took over as the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai Police. On March 20, 2021, Shri Param Bir by a letter complained to the Hon’ble Chief Minister, Government of Maharashtra. Exception was taken by Shri Param Bir to untruthful statements made against him by the Home Minister, Shri Anil Deshmukh (hereafter “Shri Deshmukh”). Relevant paragraphs from such complaint are quoted hereunder for comprehending the seriousness of the allegations levelled by Shri Param Bir against Shri Deshmukh:

“5. Shri Anil Deshmukh, Hon’ble Home Minister, Maharashtra has stated in an interview conducted under the aegis of ‘Lokmat’ and extensively reported on 18th March 2021 that: (a) there were serious lapses committed at my office, by the Mumbai Police and me in the investigation of the Antilia incident; (b) my serious lapses are not pardonable; and, (c) my transfer is not on administrative grounds.

6. At one of the briefing sessions in the wake of the Antilia incident held in mid-March 2021 when I was called lateevening at Varsha to brief you, I had pointed out several misdeeds and malpractices being indulged into by the Hon’ble Home Minister. I have similarly briefed the Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister, Maharashtra, the President of the Nationalist Congress Party, Shri Sharad Pawar and other senior Ministers also about the misdeeds and malpractices. On my briefings, I noticed that some of the Ministers were already aware about some aspects mentioned by me to them.

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7. In the aforesaid context, Shri Sachin Vaze who was heading the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police was called by Shri Anil Deshmukh, Hon’ble Home Minister, Maharashtra to his official residence Dyaneshwar several times in last few months and repeatedly instructed to assist in collection of funds for the Hon’ble Home Minister. In an around mid-February and thereafter, the Hon’ble Home Minister had called Shri Vaze to his official residence. At that time, one or two staff members of the Hon’ble Home Minister including his Personal Secretary, Mr. Palande, were also present. The Hon’ble Home Minister expressed to Shri Vaze that he had a target to accumulate Rs.100 crores a month. For achieving the aforesaid target, the Hon’ble Home Minister told Shri Vaze that there are about 1,750 bars, restaurants and other establishments in Mumbai and if a sum of Rs.2-3 lakhs each was collected from each of them, a monthly collection of Rs.40-50 crores was achievable. The Hon’ble Home Minister added that the rest of the collection could be made from other sources.

8. Shri Vaze came to my office the same day and informed me of the above. I was shocked with the above discussion and was mulling over how to deal with the situation.

9. A few days later, Shri Sanjay Patil, ACP Social Service Branch, was called by the Hon’ble Home Minister at his official residence to hold discussion about the hookah parlors in Mumbai. The meeting was attended by other officers and Shri Palande, Personal Secretary to the Hon’ble Home Minister. Two days later, Shri Patil along with DCP Bhujbal were called at the official residence of the Hon’ble Home Minister for a meeting. While ACP Patil and DCP Bhujbal were made to wait outside the Hon’ble Home Minister’s cabin, Mr. Palande went inside the chamber of the Hon’ble Home Minister and after coming out took ACP Patil and DCP Bhujbal on the side. Mr. Palande informed ACP Patil that the Hon’ble Home Minister was targeting a collection of Rs. 40-50 crores which was possible through an approximate 1,750 bar, restaurants and establishments operating in Mumbai. I was informed by ACP Patil about the demand to make collections for the Hon’ble Home Minister.

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10. The aforesaid meeting at the official residence of the Hon’ble Home Minister with Shri Patil and Shri Bhujbal occurred on 4th March 2021 as informed to me by Shri Patil. In order to remind myself about the exact conversation that I had with ACP Patil, I messaged ACP Patil on 16th March 2021. Shri Patil has reconfirmed the aforesaid date and details to me on message on 16th March 2021 & 19th March 2021………”

Note: He has quoted the message conversations between him and Shri Patil, ACP between March 16, 2021 to March 19, 2021, which are 17 in number.

11. After the meeting of Shri Vaze with the Hon’ble Home Minister, he had discussed the instructions of the Hon’ble Home Minister with Shri Patil and both of them had approached me with their predicaments.

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12. The Hon’ble Home Minister has as a regular practice been repeatedly calling my officers and giving them instructions in respect of the course to be followed by them in performance of their official duties. The Hon’ble Home Minister has been calling my officers at his official residence bypassing me and other superior officers of the Police Department to whom those respective Police officers report to. The Hon’ble Home Minister has been instructing them to carry out official assignments and collection schemes including financial transactions as per his instructions based on his expectations and targets to collect money. These corrupt malpractices have been brought to my notice by my officers.

15. Dutybound to do so, I held to my professional view as advised by legal experts. The Hon’ble Home Minister kept insisting otherwise despite having been informed by me about the opinion of legal experts on this issue.

Due to my resistance, the Hon’ble Home Minister was unhappy with me as the political mileage desired to be derived from the registration of the abetment of suicide case in Mumbai in the death of Shri Mohan Delkar, Member of Parliament against senior officials of Dadra & Nagar Haveli was not being achieved.

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17. It has been my experience during the last more than one year as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai that the Hon’ble Home Minister has on numerous occasions called several officers from the Mumbai Police to his official residence at Dyaneshwar for giving instructions to adopt a specific course of action in police investigations. These acts of political interference are illegal & unconstitutional and Courts in our country including the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India have in the past come down heavily on such acts of interference in police investigations. In the event of my expressing reservations against the interference from the Hon’ble Home Minister and resistance from me in that regard, the Hon’ble Home Minister has found my reservations and resistance undesirable.

21. In these circumstances, the assertions of the Hon’ble Home Minister to the effect that my transfer is not for administrative or routine reasons, I have conducted serious lapses and the serious lapses in the investigation committed by me are unpardonable are all statements contrary to the record and seem to be for extraneous and vindictive reasons. 23. I have humbly apprised you of the true picture in order to place before you for consideration and corrective action, being fully cognizant to the retaliation that is likely against me for placing the true picture on record.”

March 21, 2021, Shri Param Bir moved a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India before the Supreme Court being Writ Petition (Civil) No.385 of 2021 seeking, inter alia, a mandamus directing the CBI, the 3rd respondent, to immediately conduct an unbiased, uninfluenced, impartial and fair investigation in the various “corruptmalpractices” of Shri Deshmukh as well as for a writ, order or direction to quash and set aside the order dated March 17, 2021 transferring him from the post of Police Commissioner, Mumbai.  Supreme Court said: 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 public domain is a consequence of the persons falling out. Supreme Court suggested that it would appropriate to take the issue to High Court. Param Bir Singh approached Bombay High Court on March 24, 2021.

On March 21, 2021 Dr. Patil, the petitioner in Criminal Writ Petition No.1541 of 2021, lodged a complaint, inter alia, with the Malabar Hill Police Station and the Director, Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Central Bureau of Investigation seeking probe into this allegation. As there was no action Dr Patil filed PIL before Bombay High Court.  Some more writ petitions were also filed with similar prayers.

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After ten days Maharashtra Government has reacted and appointed a High Level Enquiry Committee under the presidentship of retired High Court judge Kailas UtamchandChandiwal, to inquire into the allegations.  The terms of reference are:

A. Whether Shri Parambir Singh has submitted in his letter, any evidence to reveal any irregularities/offence committed by Hon’ble Home Minister or any officer from his office, as alleged by Shri Parambir Singh in his letter dt.20.3.2021 or else?

B. Whether any commission of offence by the said Minister or the employees working in his office is revealed from the allegations levelled by Shri Parambir Singh in his letter dated 20.03.2021 on the basis of the so-called information received from Shri Sanjay Patil, Assistant Police Commissioner and Shri Sachin Vaze, Assistant Police Inspector, written by him after his transfer from the post of the Commissioner of Police, Greater Mumbai, wherein investigation by the Department of Anti-corruption Bureau or any other Investigation Agency is required?

C. Any other useful recommendations concerned with the present subject.”

The Advocate General argued that Param Bir being an interested party cannot file a PIL. He also said that his letter to CM was based on on what he had heard from his subordinates and that there is absolutely no reference to any evidence to establish that the Home Minister had made the alleged statements in the presence of Shri Param Bir. Being based on hearsay evidence, the allegations lack substance and as such did not call for immediate action. Before SC he prayed for quashing of his transfer order. Petition was withdrawn from SC with liberty granted by court to file it before Mumbai High Court.  He has converted his petition into PIL.

Taking strong exception to the statement made in paragraph 15.1 of the PIL that Shri Param Bir had no personal interest behind institution thereof, Shri Kumbhakoni argued that Shri Param Bir approached the Hon’ble Chief Minister a couple of days after he was transferred and has now come to the Court with dirty hands and a dirty heart. While branding Shri Param Bir as a disgruntled litigant who had sought to play the victim card, Shri Kumbhakoni urged that Shri Param Bir had not revealed in the PIL petition his enmity with the Home Minister.

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It was pointed out from the letter dated March 20, 2021 that though Shri Param Bir claimed to be aware of interference by the Home Minister in the course of investigation undertaken by the Police Force, not a single complaint had been lodged by him prior to his transfer. Advocate General appealed to HC to keep off this matter.

Even after the complaint has been formally filed by Dr Patil, the criminal law was not set in motion by registering an FIR and probing the matter further.

Not Rule of Goons having political support

High Court said:

“In fact, what the Constitution envisages is a rule of law and not rule of goons having political support. An ordered polity within India to promote the integrity of the country and to enliven liberty, equality and fraternity, which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was heard to say in the Constituent Assembly are not to be treated as separate entities but as a trinity, are the fundamental principles engrained in the Constitution. This trinity can be bypassed or overlooked only if the fabric of which the Constitution is woven be torn to pieces. Regrettably, for indolent State mechanisms and politicians, this can never happen for the courts shall not countenance violation of Constitutional principles by anyone, howsoever high an office he occupies, and hence while acting as the sentinel on the qui vive and being always there as a watch guard of the Constitution to repel any attack on it, the courts would ensure that the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution are respected and the ideals upheld”.

The court brushed aside the objections saying: We are thus of the view that since the law courts exist for the society, technicalities ought not to stand in the way.

HC rejected point of having alternative remedy, saying: It is not also unknown that despite the existence of a remedy, the remedy against the particular mischief complained of and the redress sought for, at times, might be of no avail. It would be opposed to Constitutional philosophy if relief is refused only on the ground of existence of an alternative remedy, which may not be equally efficacious. Therefore, if a case presented before a writ court appears to it to be extra-ordinary, which the CrWP indeed is, there is no bar that could operate for entertaining the same. After all, the rule which requires exhaustion of an alternative remedy is a rule of convenience and discretion, rather than a rule of law.

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CBI directed to probe in 15 days

Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni directed that the “allegations are of a “serious nature” that warrant a preliminary enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Prima facie, the issues are such that the very faith of citizens in the functioning of the police department is at stake. …f there is any amount of truth in such allegations, certainly it has a direct effect on the citizens’ confidence in the police machinery in the State. Such allegations, therefore, cannot remain unattended and are required to be looked into in the manner known to law when, prima facie, they indicate commission of a cognizable offence.

Court further said: It is, hence, certainly an issue of credibility of the State machinery, which would stare at the face when confronted with the expectations of the law and when such complaints are received against high-ranking public officials”. This Court cannot be a “mere spectator in these circumstances”.

The bench said that the serious nature of the allegations and the issue of public faith in police machinery in the State justified the demand for CBI investigation. “…it is indeed unheard of and unprecedented that a Minister could be so openly accused of wrongdoings and corrupt practices by none other than a senior police officer attracting wide attention from all and sundry.

The HC said: There is certainly a legitimate public expectation of a free, fair, honest and impartial inquiry and investigation into such allegations which have surfaced in the public domain. 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.

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Constitution envisages rule of law and not rule of goons. Rule of law, in terms of the Constitution, pervades over the entire field of administration and every organ of the State is regulated by it. In fact, what the Constitution envisages is a rule of law and not rule of goons having political support. The Bench ordered the CBI director to conclude the inquiry within 15 days and take further action in accordance with law.

Power Politics

The BJP has fought elections with pre-poll alliance with Shiv Sena. But Shiv Sena defected from alliance that got a mandate to rule, and formed government with National Congress Party. The BJP did not expect it.

The allegation of Param Bir Singh has created a wonderful opportunity for political changes. It is in this background the judgment of the Bombay High Court directing the CBI to probe the allegation of Param Bir Singh against Home Minister Anil Deshmukh need to be examined. The CBI should get an opportunity to probe independently without any bias.

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It’s a big hope. Whole nation will be waiting to know how the former police commissioner and his subordinates try to provide evidence to show that the Home Minster demanded the police to collect bribes. Otherwise, there will be no evidence to say the police will take bribes, that too regularly.

Here is the full text of the judgment:

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor of Law at Bennett University
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