25 Sep 2023 1:32 PM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned until October 17 the hearing of a plea filed by Tamil Nadu Director of Vigilance and Corruption (DVAC) challenging a Madras High Court order ruling out a fresh inquiry ordered by the state government against former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami in connection with an alleged highway tender scam.A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi...
The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned until October 17 the hearing of a plea filed by Tamil Nadu Director of Vigilance and Corruption (DVAC) challenging a Madras High Court order ruling out a fresh inquiry ordered by the state government against former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami in connection with an alleged highway tender scam.
A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi was hearing a special leave petition by the anti-corruption directorate against the high court’s decision to dismiss a plea seeking an investigation into the role of the former chief minister in the alleged scam. Palaniswami, the general secretary of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), served as the head of the state government between 2017 and 2021. He has been accused of awarding contracts in the highway department based on favouritism during his tenure as the chief minister, although an earlier inquiry conducted by the DVAC cleared him of suspicion. Recently, the government led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) ordered a fresh inquiry, leading to the high court criticising this ‘volte-face’ as politically motivated.
On the last occasion, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the anti-corruption directorate, raised concerns about the non-disclosure of contracts awarded to the minister's son-in-law, calling it 'blatant and shocking'. However, Senior Advocate C Aryama Sundaram objected, suggesting collusion between the directorate and the ruling DMK party. He pointed out that Sibal had previously represented DMK leader RS Bharathi, the complainant, and was now representing the DVAC, raising apprehensions over 'complicity'. In response, Sibal offered to withdraw from the case to avoid any perceived conflict of interest and Justice Bose rescheduled the hearing for a week later without issuing any orders.
At the outset of today's hearing, the bench said that the DVAC's plea would have to be heard on a non-miscellaneous day. In response, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who is now representing the anti-corruption directorate, urged the court to issue notice before rescheduling the hearing. This suggestion was met with resistance from Palaniswamy's lawyer. Sundaram argued against the issuance of notice at this stage, saying that he would like to submit on record a special leave petition in which the directorate admitted to having completed the probe into the former chief minister's role in the highway tender scam.
Dave protested, pointing out, "He was a minister at that point in time."
"If you're going by that, now, who are the ministers?" Sundaram promptly countered.
In response, Dave told the bench that a constitution bench judgment from the 1960s specifically obligated a new government to investigate the 'wrongdoings' of its predecessor. "Every leader of opposition parties is facing investigation today, while everyone connected to the ruling party is getting away scot-free," Dave argued.
In strong opposition, Sundaram said, "This is a political statement. This is very wrong. Let's keep politics out of it. All this is for the media."
Justice Trivedi also cautioned Dave to "not travel beyond the facts". At the same time, Justice Bose assured the senior counsel that the court would consider all relevant factors on the next date of the hearing. After this brief courtroom exchange, the bench directed the hearing to be adjourned until October 17.
The case revolves around allegations of corruption connected with the allocation of road and bridge construction and maintenance tenders in the state. Among the officials alleged to be involved in the scam was former chief minister and AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami. The Tamil Nadu Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, however, had earlier given a clean chit to former chief minister and AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami, on grounds that a preliminary inquiry yielded no material to proceed against him.
While hearing a petition filed by former DMK Rajya Sabha member RS Bharathi calling for an investigation into the former chief minister’s involvement, the Madras High Court in October 2018 directed a transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The central agency was asked by the single judge to conduct a preliminary investigation and register a case on finding any cognisable offence. Both Palaniswami, who was the incumbent Tamil Nadu chief minister then, and the DVAC appealed this decision, leading to the Supreme Court setting aside the impugned order and remanding the matter to the high court for reconsideration in August of last year. While passing this order, a bench headed by former Chief Justice NV Ramana noted that the high court had neither perused DVAC’s report, nor made Palaniswami a party to the litigation before transferring the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Subsequently, during the high court’s reconsideration, the state public prosecutor revealed that the earlier preliminary report submitted by the state vigilance and anti-corruption director had been rejected by the vigilance commissioner, prompting a fresh inquiry to be ordered by the Tamil Nadu government. However, Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court, upon reviewing the preliminary inquiry report, found that the five allegations against Palaniswami had been adequately addressed, and the investigating officer had determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. Not only did the high court rule that there was no basis for a fresh inquiry, since the government’s decision appeared to be driven solely by a change in political leadership rather than any change in circumstances, but the court also dismissed Bharathi’s petition seeking a probe in Palaniswamy’s role in the alleged highway tender scam.
Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption v. Edappadi Palaniswamy & Anr. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 11315 of 2023