Maha irrigation scam: ACB puts onus on Ajit Pawar

Nagpur:The Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has informed the Bombay High Court that its probe into the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam has revealed major lapses on part of the state’s former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and other government officials.

The scam, pegged at around Rs 70,000 crore, relates to alleged corruption and irregularities in approval and execution of various irrigation projects in Maharashtra during the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) rule.

Pawar was among the NCP ministers who were in-charge of the irrigation department at different times between 1999 and 2014 during the Congress-NCP coalition rule in Maharashtra.

ACB’s Director General Sanjay Barve filed an affidavit before the Nagpur bench of the high court on Tuesday in response to a petition filed by an NGO, Janmanch. 

The NGO, in it’s petition, raised concerns over irregularities in irrigation projects undertaken by the Vidharba and Konkan Irrigation Development Corporations.

The affidavit described the scam as a “weird case of conspiracy” in the water resources department which has “defrauded the government itself”.

“The dramatis personae, who put up this performance that cost the government dearly, are simply trying to hide behind the framework of rules and pass the buck,” it said.

It said several projects of the Vidarbha and Konkan irrigation development corporations suffered delays, cost escalations and non-realisation of projected goals of irrigation during Pawar’s stewardship as minister for water resources department.

“The ACB has observed that various irregularities have been committed in several of these tenders/works with uncanny similarity,” Barve said in his affidavit.

During inquiries, Pawar claimed he took decisions based on recommendations of secretary-level officers and that most of the decisions were taken at the field level, the affidavit said.

“It is observed that the minister in-charge of the water resources department shoves the responsibility on to the officers,” it said.

The ACB further said it had sought the opinion of the water resources department’s principal secretary about Pawar’s role as the minister.

The principal secretary, in his reply to the ACB, said Rule 10 of the Maharashtra Government Rules of Business and Instructions was self-explanatory and that nothing more needed to be added.

“Rule 10 of the Maharashtra Government Rules of Business and Instructions makes the minister in-charge of the department responsible for all the business and disposal thereof pertaining to the said department,” the affidavit mentioned.

The anti-graft agency also said that officials of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) obtained several major pecuniary advantages for contractors, contrary to public interest.

“The ACB has now filed 24 FIRs against officers and contractors in relation to projects of the VIDC and has closely examined the role of Respondent 7 (Pawar),” it said.

The affidavit alleged that VIDC’s officials bypassed procedures, acted against the government’s interest, favoured a select group of contractors and ensured that they got pecuniary benefits.

“The officials allowed and accepted sub-standard work and thereby caused a drain upon the public exchequer. These officials acted in an orchestrated manner,” it charged.

“It is like an orchestra where players have done their bit to create symphony and no one is ready to own up to the jarring notes,” it added.

The ACB has sought time to further probe the irregularities and initiate criminal action in accordance with the law.

Earlier this month, senior NCP leader Dhananjay Munde had denied Pawar’s involvement in the alleged scam and accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to vitiate the political atmosphere ahead of elections.

1984 anti-Sikh riots: HC upholds conviction of 80 people

New Delhi:The Delhi High Court Wednesday upheld the conviction of around 80 people and awarded them five year jail term for rioting, burning houses and violation of curfew during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Justice R K Gauba dismissed their 22-year old appeals against conviction by a trial court and asked all the convicts to surrender forthwith to undergo the prison term.

The convicts had challenged the August 27, 1996 judgement of a Sessions Court which had convicted 88 out of the 107 people arrested on November 2, 1984 for rioting, burning houses and curfew violation in Trilokpuri area of East Delhi.

After the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, the next couple of days witnessed widespread rioting and killings of Sikhs in the national capital.

According to the FIR lodged in connection with the Trilokpuri incident, 95 people had died in the rioting and 100 houses were burnt, said senior advocate H S Phoolka, who has been representing the riot victims in various matters.

Of the 88 convicts who moved the high court, several have died during the pendency of their appeals and the case against them has abated, police had earlier said.

HC refuses to stall SIT probe into varsity sex scandal

Chennai:The Madras High Court has made it clear that it cannot stall the probe by the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Tamil Nadu Governor into the alleged sex scandal at Madurai Kamaraj University in the state.

A division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice P Rajamanickam said Thursday, “We cannot stay the probe by SIT, all we can do is only ask the university whether it has implemented the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.” 

The bench also directed the university to file a report on the proper implementation of the Act in its institutions.

The direction came on a plea by Revolutionary Students Youth Front seeking to stall the probe conducted by the SIT and constitute a new team headed by a woman official to investigate the scandal in which assistant professor Nirmala Devi allegedly tried to lure college girls to offer sexual favours to higher officials.

When the plea came up for hearing, the Advocate General filed a status report, which said the professor “voluntarily” confessed during custodial interrogation that she tried to lure girl students of her college only to offer sexual favours to other two accused in the case Murugan and Karuppasamy.

It was further submitted that with the assistance of cybercrime cell the call data records (CDR) of Nirmala Devi, Karuppasamy and Murugan were obtained from Mobile Service Providers (MSPs).

The report said the records were analysed and relevant evidences of conspiracy was established.

“The calls made and received by the accused were analysed, and the concerned were summoned, examined and statements recorded. The calls among the three were corroborated based on the voluntary confession and the facts were verified,” it was submitted.

“The seizure of all digital evidences was done after following due legal procedure, the report added.

Nirmala Devi, assistant professor at Devanga Arts College in Aruppukottai, was arrested on April 16, a day after an audio clip went viral on the social media, in which she purportedly sought to persuade girls to consider extending sexual favours to senior officials of MKU, to which the college is affiliated.

Madras HC stays proceedings in defamation case against DMK chief Stalin

Chennai: The Madras High Court has stayed proceedings in a criminal defamation case against DMK president M K Stalin over certain remarks made by him against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami in September.

Justice N Anand Venkatesh issued the interim order on Thursday on a petition by Stalin against the proceedings arising out of a complaint filed against him under Section 500 (defamation) of the IPC over his alleged public speech in Salem on September 18 criticising the chief minister.

The case was initially filed in a court in Salem and later transferred to the special court for cases against MPs and MLAs here.

Stalin submitted that the trial court had failed to note that the allegations made against the chief minister did not amount to defamation.

He alleged that the complaint had been filed with malicious and political motive to harass him.

Making a statement against Palaniswami in his individual capacity cannot be said to be damaging the reputation of the office of the chief minister, the DMK chief submitted.

The public prosecutor opposed the plea and argued that baseless and unsubstantiated allegations made by the petitioner against the chief minister constituted criminal defamation and he was liable to be prosecuted.

SC notice to Ramdev on book publisher’s plea against HC order

New Delhi:The Supreme Court Friday issued notice to Yoga guru Ramdev on a plea by a publisher challenging the Delhi High Court’s verdict restraining sale and publication of a book purportedly on his life.

The high court had passed the restraining order after Ramdev claimed that the book had defamatory content.

The apex court listed the matter for further hearing in first week of February next year.

“We will issue notice to Respondent 1 (Ramdev),” a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.

The publisher, Juggernaut Books Private Limited, approached the apex court challenging the high court’s September 29 judgement.

Earlier, Ramdev had filed the plea in the high court against the book titled “Godman To Tycoon” The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev, saying the book, purportedly on his life, had defamatory content and harmed his economic interests and reputation.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the publisher, told the apex court bench that there were “some significant” and “very interesting issues” in the matter.

The bench also asked why the publisher has made e-commerce websites Amazon India and Flipkart Internet Private Limited, which were earlier selling the book online, parties in the plea.

“Why do you want Amazon and Flipkart (as parties) unnecessarily in this,” the bench asked and issued notice to Ramdev only.

The high court in its September verdict, restraining the sale, publication and distribution of the book, had said the right to reputation of a living individual cannot be “crucified” at the “altar of the right to freedom of speech and expression” of another.

It had said the publisher was restrained from selling and publishing the book till the time the alleged objectionable portion was deleted. 

Ramdev had approached the high court to set aside a trial court order removing the ban on the publication and sale of the book.

In August last year, an additional civil judge had restrained the publisher from publishing and selling the book till further orders. It had also restrained Amazon India and Flipkart Internet Pvt Ltd from selling it online and stop its pending deliveries to buyers.

On April 28 this year, however, an additional senior civil judge (ASCJ) had removed the ban.

The book is penned by journalist Priyanka Pathak Narain.

The high court had restrained the publishing of the book, saying the person about whom the book is written is a “living human being” who was entitled to be treated with dignity.

It also said that the portions of the book “which make readers think that he is an ambitious villain”, until so proved in the court of law, are necessarily to be restrained from being published and distributed for sale till disposal of the case pending before the lower court.

The book was released on July 29, 2017, and Ramdev had approached the trial court on August 4 that year.

The high court had stayed an order of the ASCJ lifting the ban on publication and sale of the book. It had also granted interim relief to Ramdev while hearing his plea challenging the ASCJ’s order.

Ramdev’s counsel had claimed that the allegations in the book relating to the Yoga guru’s life were incorrect.

The author, however, had told the high court that at the end of the book, there were extracts of the facts, including details of persons whom she had interviewed before writing the book.

The publisher had said the extracts of the material in the book were already in public domain since 2007 and Ramdev had never raised any objection. The counsel said the entire record of the trial court has not been placed before the high court.

Man acquitted in murder case on benefit of doubt

Thane:A court here has acquitted a 27-year-old man in a murder case, observing that the prosecution failed to prove the motive behind the killing.

Additional Sessions Judge S B Bahalkar, in his order earlier this month, gave the benefit of doubt to the accused, Alok Singh.

He said the prosecution failed to prove the charges under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) against the accused.

The prosecution told the court that the accused and the victim, Dharmendra Singh (29), were roommates and worked as operators at a weighbridge in Thane’s Bhiwandi town.

On August 1, 2009, the victim’s family members in Uttar Pradesh could not reach him on his mobile phone and enquired with the accused about him.

The accused apparently informed them that Dharmendra Singh had left the room the previous night saying he would return after two days.

However, when the family could still not contact him, they filed a missing person’s complaint with police on August 2.

The police later found the victim’s shoes, wallet and mobile phone lying abandoned behind the weigh-bridge and the body in a water fit located nearby.

The investigators subsequently seized some clothes of the accused and an iron rod from his room, and alleged that he had killed his roommate.

The prosecution told the court that the postmortem report stated the cause of death as ‘cardio respiratory failure due to hemorrhagic shock because of injury to brain and fracture of skull bone with a sharp object’.

The judge observed that a proper panchnama was not carried out of the items seized from the accused. 

“I have some more reasons to disbelieve the prosecution’s evidence. According to the First Information Report (FIR) and medical evidence, it appears that there were incised wounds on the head and forehead of the deceased, probably caused by a sharp object,” he noted.

However, the probing officer seized the iron rod as the weapon of the crime, he said.

“An iron rod is definitely not a sharp weapon. It is a hard and blunt object. Thus, even the recovery of weapon is not consistent with the prosecution’s case,” the judge said.

Moreover, it is important for the prosecution to prove what was the motive of the accused behind commission of the crime, he said.

“The prosecution’s evidence nowhere discloses the motive. Based on these reasons, I can safely conclude that the prosecution has not brought sufficient and cogent evidence to prove the guilt of the accused,” the judge said.

Bypoll for Tiruvarur Assembly seat before Feb 7, Chief Electoral Officer informs HC bench

Madurai:Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo Monday informed the Madras High Court it has been decided to conduct the bypoll for the Tiruvarur Assembly constituency before February 7 next year.

In an affidavit filed before the Madurai bench of the high court, he submitted that a case regarding the by-election to the Thiruparankundram constituency was pending before the principal seat and hence it could not be held now.

Justices Sasidharan and Audikesavalu closed the public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by K K Ramesh seeking to direct the Election Commission to hold the by-elections to the two constituencies soon.

The two constituencies fell vacant after their MLAs — late DMK chief M Karunanidhi (Tiruvarur) and A K Bose (Thiruparankunaram) — passed away and by-elections have to be held within six months after their falling vacant.

A case is pending regarding the Thiruparankunram by-elections after Bose was declared elected following a petition by rival DMK candidate Saravanan, who had challenged the validity of Bose’s nomination.

The petitioner alleged that the state government was not showing interest in holding the by-elections as the Lok Sabha elections were due next year and that the results would have an impact on the Parliamentary polls.

Hence, he sought a direction from the court to conduct the by-polls.

The judges had earlier asked the state government to file its reply by November 26.

Eighteen other seats in the state assembly are vacant after the Madras High Court in October upheld the disqualification of 18 ruling party MLAs, owing allegiance to AMMK leader TTV Dhinakaran.

SC to hear after 6 weeks plea for reinstatement of woman trial court judge in MP

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday granted four weeks to the registrar general of Madhya Pradesh High Court to reply to a plea by a woman judicial officer who is seeking reinstatement after having resigned following an inquiry into her allegations of sexual harassment against a sitting high court judge.

The high court judge was given a clean chit in December 2017 by a Rajya Sabha-appointed panel which probed the allegations.

A bench comprising justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer said the registrar general as well as the state government would file their responses on the plea within four weeks and the petitioner would file rejoinder within two weeks thereafter.

The bench has listed the matter for hearing after six weeks.

On October 12, the court had issued notices to registrar general of the Madhya Pradesh High Court and state government seeking their response within six weeks.

Earlier, the counsel appearing for the petitioner had said that issue of reinstatement in service needs to be looked into by the top court and the high court’s administrative order of January 11, 2017 should be set aside.

The petitioner has said that her fundamental rights granted under the Constitution for employment, to work and to carry on her profession needs to be secured.

She has sought that the administrative order of January 11, 2017 passed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, dismissing her application for reinstatement into the Madhya Pradesh Higher Judicial Services, should be set aside.

The petition has said the high court had ignored the categorical finding in the report of the Judges Inquiry Committee dated December 15, 2017 terming the petitioner’s resignation dated July 15, 2014 from her post of Additional District Judge as “unbearable circumstances having no other option”.

It has said that her “resignation was neither voluntary nor conscious but was actuated by her illegal mid-term transfer which was punitive, irregular, unjustified, arbitrary and actuated by bias/mala fides hence amounts to constructive dismissal which merits to be set aside being and the consequential relief of reinstatement with full back wages”.

The plea has said that the Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed her application “without assigning any valid reasons for the rejection and in utter disregard of the findings of fact arrived by the Judges Inquiry Committee in its report”.

It added that motion for removal under Article 217 read with Article 124 of the Constitution was instituted against the respondent judge in the Rajya Sabha on allegations of sexual harassment and consequent victimization leveled by the Petitioner.

“After the inquiry proceedings conducted against the Respondent Judge on three charges relating to sexual harassment, consequent victimisation and transfer of the Petitioner, the Judges Inquiry Committee held that the charges were not proved and hence cleared him of all charges,” the petition has said.

It said, however, the Judges Inquiry Committee took note of the arbitrary and sudden transfer of the Petitioner from Gwalior to Sidhi which was done “in complete violation of the transfer policy, not on administrative exigencies and concluded that the transfer of the petitioner was in violation of the transfer Policy – punitive, irregular, unjustified, arbitrary and hurried”.

The woman in her plea added that the judges inquiry committee had opined that “the petitioner be reinstated in service since her resignation was tendered under coercion”.

A motion of impeachment was admitted against the high court judge after 58 members of the Rajya Sabha supported the woman’s case.

The report of the panel comprising Supreme Court judge R Bhanumathi, Justice Manjula Chellur (then Bombay High Court judge) and jurist K K Venugopal (now Attorney General for India) had given a clean chit to the high court judge was tabled before the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 2017.

The panel was set up in April 2015 by then Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari after admitting a motion supported by 58 members to impeach the judge.

The woman, in her plea, has claimed that she had practised as an advocate in various courts including the Supreme Court, the High Court, Tribunals for 15 years before she qualified in the Madhya Pradesh Higher Judicial Services on March 23, 2011, and thereafter was selected as the 2nd Additional Judge to 1st Additional District and Sessions Judge, Gwalior on August 1, 2011.

She said, after completing her training under the 1st Additional District & Sessions Judge, Gwalior, she was appointed as the VIIIth Additional District and Sessions Judge Gwalior October 1, 2012.

On July 7, 2014, she was transferred to Sidhi from Gwalior which she termed as “illegal”, “unjust” and “punitive transfer” as their was no vacancy in Sidhi nor any administrative exigencies.

SC refuses to entertain fresh plea against Article 370

New Delhi:The Supreme Court Monday refused to entertain a fresh petition on Article 370, which gives special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, and said that the issues raised in it were already part of the pending pleas.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ajay Rastogi asked the petitioner to file an application for impleadment in the pending matters.

During the brief hearing, the bench asked the petitioner as to why he wanted to increase the number of petitions on the issue.

“We have heard the petitioner. The issues raised in the petition are part of the petitions pending,” said the bench.

The petition filed by advocate Vijay Mishra and Sandeep Lamba has sought a declaration that Article 370 of the Constitution had lapsed with the dissolution of constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir on January 26, 1957 and it cannot be treated as mandatory for exercise of powers of the President. 

The plea has also sought that the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir be declared as “arbitrary, unconstitutional and void”, claiming that it was against the supremacy of the Indian Constitution and contrary to the dictum of “One Nation, One Constitution, One National Anthem and One National Flag”.

It has sought declaring as arbitrary some provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, which deals with permanent residency and flag of the valley among other issues, for being violative of the Preamble and the Indian Constitution.

The petition has said that continuance of two parallel constitutions, one for the Centre and other for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, “reeks of a weird dichotomy” as most of the provisions of the Indian Constitution has already been extended to the state. 

It has alleged that due to vote bank politics, successive governments did nothing to repeal Article 370 and Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir was adopted much after the Indian Constitution came into force. 

It also added that the instrument of accession of October 26, 1947 does not talk about separate Constitution or constituent assembly for the state.

SC for prosecution of govt officials for not acting on Delhi’s air pollution complaints

New Delhi:The Supreme Court Monday asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to initiate prosecution against government officials who have not acted on nearly 250 complaints received on its official social media accounts with regard to pollution in Delhi.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said that officials who have failed to act on the complaints were required to be prosecuted.

“Why do not you prosecute these officials? You should prosecute them. Let these people realise what they have done,” the bench told Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, who was appearing for the CPCB.

Nadkarni said from November 1 to November 22 this year, they had received 749 air pollution complaints on social media accounts and action was taken on around 500 such complaints.

Regarding court’s suggestion to prosecute the officials responsible for not acting on the complaints, he said that the CPCB would look into it.

The CPCB had on November 1 told the apex court that it has created social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook where citizens could lodge their complaints about pollution in Delhi-national capital region (NCR).

The top court is seized of matters in which several issues related to air pollution in the Delhi-NCR have been raised.