15 Sep 2023 7:57 AM GMT
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, while appearing for former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a bail case, expressed concerns about media discussions on the merits of ongoing legal matters, even while the courts are hearing these cases. He told the Court that news articles about Sisodia's case appear shortly before his matter is listed in the Court. He said that he will submit...
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, while appearing for former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a bail case, expressed concerns about media discussions on the merits of ongoing legal matters, even while the courts are hearing these cases.
He told the Court that news articles about Sisodia's case appear shortly before his matter is listed in the Court. He said that he will submit a chart showing the dates of the publications and the court postings.
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti was hearing Sisodia’s pleas against the Delhi High Court denying him bail in both the CBI and ED cases. The apex court issued notice in his petitions last month, on July 14. The former deputy chief minister is facing charges of money laundering and corruption for alleged irregularities in the framing and implementation of a now-scrapped liquor policy in the national capital. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader has been in custody since February of this year and is being investigated by both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Directorate of Enforcement (ED).
On the last occasion, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi requested interim bail on humanitarian grounds to allow Sisodia to visit his ailing wife. However, Justice Khanna noted that the CBI had stated in its counter affidavit that Sisodia's wife had been suffering from the illness for the past two decades. Singhvi explained that she has a degenerative disease that has been progressing, and she was admitted to the hospital twice in the last few months. Nevertheless, the bench decided to consider the interim bail plea at a later date, along with the regular bail application. For the State, Additional Solicitor-General SV Raju insisted that Sisodia's wife should undergo an independent evaluation at AIIMS, but the bench suggested that this should not be insisted upon as long as she is consulting a reputable doctor. Notably, Justice Khanna also stressed the importance of understanding how the money trail had been established and urged the CBI to clarify this aspect.
Today's hearing was adjourned by the bench on Singhvi and Raju's joint request. Singhvi told the bench -
"We have agreed, even though [Sisodia] is in jail. The hearing will take two to three hours at least, on my side. Your Lordships will have to give one day for this. We are in urgency. Can Your Lordships accommodate us on October 4? This is a matter requiring your urgent attention."
Notably, Singhvi also shared his misgivings about the merits of the case being routinely dissected by newspapers and news channels, saying -
"Every day when the matter is listed or some other matter, there is an article in the newspaper talking of the merits. The next court is considering how to have media guidelines about sub judice matters. I'm making a mapping chart. On the right column is Your Lordship's date, and on the left, is the publication. I'm making this chart."
"This does not affect us. We have to get used to it", Justice Khanna said.
It may be noted that two days ago, on September 15, the bench led by Chief Justice of India had expressed concerns about 'media-trials' and directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to frame guidelines for the police media briefing.
The origin of the controversy is the excise policy framed by the Government of the National Capital of Delhi to boost revenue and reform liquor trade in 2021, which was later withdrawn after allegations of irregularities in implementation were made and Lieutenant-Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the policy. This policy – which sought to completely privatise liquor trade in the national capital – was used to grant undue advantage to private entities at the cost of the public exchequer and smacked of corruption, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation have claimed. The investigations are currently underway and led to the arrest of, among others, Manish Sisodia – the former deputy chief minister of Delhi and a prominent leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Manish Sisodia was first arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in a case related to the excise policy on February 26 and later by the Enforcement Directorate on March 9. In the first information report (FIR) registered by the CBI, Sisodia and others have been accused of being instrumental in ‘recommending’ and ‘taking decisions’ regarding the 2021-22 excise policy, “without the approval of competent authority with an intention to extend undue favours to the licensee post tender”. The central agency has also claimed that the AAP leader was arrested because he gave evasive replies and refused to cooperate with the investigation, despite being confronted with evidence.
On the other hand, the Enforcement Directorate has alleged that the excise policy was implemented as part of a conspiracy to give wholesale business profit of 12 percent to certain private companies, although such a stipulation was not mentioned in the minutes of meetings of Group of Ministers (GoM). The agency has also claimed that there was a conspiracy that was coordinated by Vijay Nair and other individuals along with South Group to give extraordinary profit margins to wholesalers. Nair was acting on behalf of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, according to the agency.
Sisodia’s bail applications in both cases – investigated by the CBI and the ED respectively – were rejected by Special Judge MK Nagpal of Rouse Avenue Courts in Delhi on March 31 and April 28.
Last month, on July 3, the Delhi High Court denied bail to Sisodia in the money laundering case related to the implementation of the previous liquor policy in the national capital. Earlier, on May 30, the high court rejected his bail plea in the corruption case registered by the CBI in relation to the liquor policy. The former litigator has approached the Supreme Court challenging both these verdicts.