The Supreme Court on stayed till further order the proceedings pending in a trial court in a corruption case relating to purchase of pistols for the Army in 1998 in which former Union minister Arun Nehru and others are accused.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir stayed the proceedings before the trial court which had fixed March 30 for commencement of arguments on charges in the case.
Nehru had moved the apex court against the order passed by the Delhi High Court which had refused to stay the proceedings.
Senior counsel Vikas Singh and advocate Sandeep Kapur, appearing for Nehru, told the apex court that the order on cognisance by the special CBI court was passed “in a casual and perfunctory manner” as the sanction to prosecute Nehru, a public servant, was not taken before proceeding against him.
“It is pertinent to mention that the bar to taking cognisance under section 197 CrPC is operative even after a person ceases to be a public servant by retirement or otherwise and as long as the act complained of is related to his duties while he was a public servant sanction ought to be sought against the said person,” Nehru, in his petition, said.
According to the FIR registered by CBI against Nehru, who was then a Minister of State in the Home Ministry, he along with two other senior officials had allegedly caused a loss of Rs 25 lakh to exchequer in a pistol deal with Czechoslovakia in 1988.
The case dates back to 1985-86 when BP Singhal, the then additional secretary in the Home Ministry, and AK Verma, then director in the Home Ministry, allegedly conspired with Nehru, the then Minister of State (Internal Security) for Home Affairs, to execute the deal.
However, proceedings against Singhal and Verma have abated as they have died. CBI had alleged that Nehru had ignored the guidelines for conducting the evaluation of 9 mm pistols.
The trial court had taken cognisance of the 24-year-old case against the accused after rejecting CBI’s closure report which had contended that nothing incriminating could be found against Nehru during the protracted probe.
Nehru, in his petition filed before the apex court, had contended that the high court had failed to appreciate that in “the instant matter cognisance has not been taken under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 but under Prevention of Corruption Act, (Act II), 1947, under which, there is no such bar on stay of proceedings.”
CBI, in its probe in the case, had found that a policy decision to replace .38 mm revolvers with 9 mm pistols was taken on February 21, 1986, following which global tenders were invited and the deal was finally clinched with Czech firm Merkuria Foreign Trade Corp for purchase of the pistols.
CBI had told the trial court that the investigations did not reveal any written instruction by Nehru. “No prima facie evidence has come (up) that the accused had committed any misconduct or had misused his office with regard to the deal,” CBI had said.
It had also submitted that Nehru gave approval for the purchase on the recommendation of the then Home Secretary.
CBI had filed the closure report on June 13, 2007 but the trial court had rejected it observing that a few documents reflected involvement of the accused in the case.
The court had taken cognisance of the offences punishable under various sections of IPC including sections 420 (cheating), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and also under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.