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"Regime Revenge" : Supreme Court On Ex-TN Minister Velumani Being Denied Report Of Preliminary Enquiry Against Him

Srishti Ojha
2 May 2022 2:42 PM GMT
Regime Revenge : Supreme Court On Ex-TN Minister Velumani Being Denied Report Of Preliminary Enquiry Against Him
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"This is what happens when we allow political scores to be settled in courts", remarked the Supreme Court on Monday while coming down heavily on the Madras High Court for its order declining to provide a copy of the preliminary inquiry report to former Tamil Nadu Minister SP Velumani in relation to a corruption probe against him."This is not correct, the High Court is wrong. Suppose...

"This is what happens when we allow political scores to be settled in courts", remarked the Supreme Court on Monday while coming down heavily on the Madras High Court for its order declining to provide a copy of the preliminary inquiry report to former Tamil Nadu Minister SP Velumani in relation to a corruption probe against him.

"This is not correct, the High Court is wrong. Suppose tomorrow I order an inquiry, and the Agency submits a report, can I say no keep it in sealed cover I will send it to the government? If the High Court accepted the PIL, ordered an inquiry, a report is submitted, how can the High court say like this?", a bench led by the Chief Justice of India asked.

While referring to the present matter as a case of 'regime revenge', the CJI-led bench was also critical of the Tamil Nadu Government's objection to providing the report to the petitioner. 

The Bench also stressed on the importance of Investigating Agencies being fair without being influenced by the party in power.

Addressing Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar appearing for the State, the CJI remarked, "I don't want to use the word but, regime revenges! See your government.. Persons will come and go, Governments will continue, the Investigating Agencies have to be fair, whichever may the party in power be".

"You conducted inquiry at instance of High Court, a report is submitted by you. It is for you to prosecute him and for him to defend, we aren't on that. But you can't suppress like this", the CJI told the Senior Counsel. 

A bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli was considering Velumani's special leave petition challenging the High Court's order declining his request for copy of the preliminary inquiry report and the materials collected by a Police Officer appointed by the Madras High Court.

The bench today reserved its orders in the special leave petition and an application filed by Velumani seeking quashing of the FIR registered against him. 

During the hearing, the petitioner was represented through Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi and Advocate Gaurav Agrawal.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the court that an FIR was filed against the former Minister only because of a change in the government despite the inquiry report suggesting no misdemeanour on his part.  

He stated that after a PIL was filed before the High Court seeking investigation against the petitioner, the Madras High Court had appointed an officer of the state police to conduct the investigation. The preliminary investigation report was furnished running into 100 pages after examining witnesses and documents, and suggested no misdemeanour on part of the petitioner.

Mr.Rohatgi argued that the state vigilance department had accepted the report and said no further action would be taken against petitioner as there was no material in allegations and it was only for political vendetta.

After the government changed, FIR was lodged against the petitioner despite the report being in his favour, and when he moved the High court to get a copy of the report, the High Court refused to give the copy for no real reason. The same report has now been placed before the Supreme Court.

He pointed out that according to state government's affidavit the present case against the petitioner is based on a fresh inquiry conducted by a CAG report. Further the report was already in custody of the court and it's therefore in domain of the High Court to give a copy of the report.

"So if the state has no real objection, why does the High Court have objection in giving me copy of the report? The then government had then said that there was no material, today's government said we won't go by that report, we will go by a fresh report. It's not a state secret. It's not a privileged document", Mr Rohatgi remarked

Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar appearing for the State submitted that the High Court had kept the inquiry report in a sealed cover, and it didn't even reach the State. Further, after the Supreme Court's order directing a copy of the report to be produced, the report was forwarded directly by the Registrar general. 

Mr Rohatgi, while opposing Mr Kumar's submission, stated that it is incorrect that the state didn't have a copy of the report. He added that the report was given to the vigilance commissioner of state government and the government endorsed it. They said the report was accepted and there was no cognizable offence.

"Governments don't change, the parties change", Mr Rohatgi remarked.

Background-

The present SLP challenged the Madras High Court's November 2021 order which instructed the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) to submit within ten weeks, the final report/ charge sheet in corruption probe against former Tamil Nadu Minister SP Velumani.

The direction was given by Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D Audikesavalu while disposing off two petitions filed against alleged discrepancies in handing out public works contracts of Chennai and Coimbatore Corporations.

It was alleged that the former Minister deliberately reduced the number of tenderers for public works and awarded contracts to his close aids, in violation of the Tamil Nadu Transparency in Tenders Act, 1998 and the Rules, as well as the Competition Act.

Elaborate orders were passed at the initial stage, appreciating the need for an investigation. Accordingly, a preliminary report was submitted by the investigating agency in December 2019. However, not much progress was made after the pandemic struck.

Significantly, the former Minister had sought a copy of the preliminary inquiry report, saying that making the report available to him was important to protect his own interests.

Declining this request, the Court said that the law must be allowed to take its own course and that in any case, the investigation has almost come to an end and the charge-sheet or final report, if any, will be filed within next ten weeks. It added,

"In course of the material being made over to the fourth respondent (Velumani) under Section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, if the preliminary report forms the basis for any of the charges sought to be framed, a copy of such preliminary report may be made over to the fourth respondent and it will also be open to the relevant criminal court to consider whether the petitioner may also obtain a copy thereof", the court noted.

The High Court's Order had come in the plea filed by 'Arappor Iyakkam', an NGO and MP R.S. Bharathi. Back in January 2019, the former had approached the court to issue a Writ of Mandamus directing DVAC to register an FIR on the basis of its complaint dated 12.09.2018.

As per the amended provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, it was prerequisite u/s 17A(1)(b) of the PCA to obtain previous permission from the Government for an investigation into offences committed by public servants. The petitioner contended that neither the Chief Secretary nor the government was an appropriate authority to grant permission in terms of serious allegations against a senior cabinet minister and only the Governor could grant the same.

Case Title: SP Velumani vs Arappor Iyakkam & Ors

Click Here To Read/Download Order


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