The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the city police commissioner to register an FIR against senior Congress leader Kripashankar Singh for ” criminal misconduct” under the Prevention of Corruption Act and ordered the attachment of his and his immediate family’s movable and immovable properties worth crores. The court order came as a major blow for Singh who was already reeling from the recent civic poll debacle. He put in his papers as chief of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee soon after the announcement of the judgment. It was accepted.
The court passed the order while hearing a 2010 public interest litigation (PIL) which alleged that Singh and his family have amassed disproportionate assets worth hundreds of crores of rupees. The HC directed that the PIL’s memo be treated a first information report. It also appointed Mumbai police chief Arup Patnaik to personally investigate the criminal case against Singh, his wife Malti Devi, son Narendra Kumar Singh, daughter-in-law Ankita Singh, daughter Sunita Singh and son-in-law Vijay Pratap Singh. It demanded that a report be filed by April 19 before any further action is taken.
The high court also ordered the attachment of about 15 properties estimated to be worth Rs 320 crore owned by Singh’s family. Several of these are in Mumbai’s prime areas. Among them are a 5,000-sq-ft bungalow worth Rs 40 crore on Bandra’s Carter Road and a 2,000-sq-ft flat in Hiranandani Garden in Powai, and a 250-acre plot in Ratnagiri. According to the petition, the Singhs also possess a dozen cars, including four BMWs.
For its verdict, the HC treated an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) report, which listed the Singh family’s assets, dated March 30, 2011 as complete.
In its stinging order, a bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Roshan Dalvi Patnaik asked the police “to collect evidence about all movable and immovable properties owned by the Singhs, including flats, shops, bungalow, agricultural land, office premises, cars, bank and trading accounts and calculate the amount of disproportion from the FIR and ACB’s March 30 report”. The judges said that all of Singh family’s assets-excluding bank accounts-be seized and attached. “Most of the bank accounts have already been completely washed out,” observed the judges. The court directed the police to obtain legal sanction for prosecuting the Congress leader.
The judgment ran into 39 pages and was in response to a PIL filed by RTI activist Sanjay Tiwari. During the hearings, the petitioner’s lawyers Mahesh Jethmalani and Mihir Desai took the HC through a number of allegations of “ill-gotten wealth” against Singh, a public servant since 1994. They demanded a thorough inquiry by the ACB, Income Tax department and the Enforcement Directorate. The lawyers alleged that Singh, who hails from a humble background, amassed wealth rapidly and so did his wife, daughter and son, the last of whom trained to be a pilot but quit his job. The wife and daughter, they said, have no regular source of income.
The judgment slammed Singh’s argument that he exchanged several lakhs of rupees with his son and that he purchased and sold the same car with no documentary evidence. The HC said Singh’s explanation, which has been accepted by the ACB, is wholly unacceptable. His acquisition of flats, cash, agricultural land, gold jewellery are testimony to support the petition of his ill-gotten wealth, the court said. The HC rejected Singh’s request for a stay of its judgment to enable him to appeal.
Also significantly, the court said, “The conclusion of the ACB about disproportion in its July 7, 2011 report is wholly rejected.” This is a setback for Singh as it was this second ACB report that informed the HC of there being inadequate material to register an FIR against Singh. The Congress leader though his counsel Mukul Rohtagi had sought dismissal of the PIL arguing that once the ACB concluded that there was not enough evidence, the court could not go into merits of the PIL and that doing so would exceed the court’s authority.
Singh argued that the petitioner could file a private complaint before a magistrate if he so wished. But the court dismissed all of Singh’s arguments and said it “could easily prima facie conclude that a cognisable offence is disclosed”. However, it said it did ‘”not propose to go through the elaborate ACB report and to collate entries relating to income and assets of each Singh family member named”. “This exercise,” the court said, “would certainly have to be undertaken, on the overall view of extensive assets of Singh, his wife, son, daughter and son-and-daughter-in-law by the investigating agency under the PCA and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.” The court however, mentioned that it gave direction only to register an FIR under the PCA and “no direction on other allegations made by the petitioner.”
The court saw no merit in Singh’s “private complaint” plea. The court said that “far reaching investigation is required… and evidence collected from Singh family and if they refuse from their own transactions or banks.”
The court also rejected Singh’s stand that it was all vendetta against him. The judgment said, “This is a case where the petitioner has sought to bring Singh, his wife and children to justice. The PIL has evinced a prima facie case against them. The investigating agency has not found the case to be frivolous, in fact it has found the assets shown by the petitioner to be correct assets in the names of the respondents. There is thus no vendetta shown.”
The court held that the PIL has not sought to besmirch the character of the Singh family, but the only endeavour was to show that “rule of law prevails”.
Nailing the case against Singh, the court said “the right mode of obtaining justice when the investigating agency has so utterly failed, is through the writ court in a PIL.”