The High Court of Delhi dismissed a plea by a journalist who took part in a sting operation conducted by Tehelka to expose wrongdoings in a purported arms deal, seeking direction to the government to adequately reimburse his expenses for appearing as a witness.
Mathew Samuel conducted the sting “Operation West End” for the web portal in May 2001 on former Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley and other government officials to expose corruption in defence deals.
Samuel, presently residing in Kerala, moved the high court saying that he had spent 11 years attending various courts, commissions of enquiry, departmental proceedings and court martial proceedings as a prosecution witness in 12 criminal cases registered by the CBI and also other proceedings. He claimed he had been paid “only a thin amount under the Delhi Criminal Court (payment of expenses to complainant and witnesses) Rules.”
Filling the plea, Samuel sought a direction to the centre and Delhi governments to pay expenses he had incurred in attending legal proceedings at various fora.
A division bench of Chief Justice D. Murugesan and Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, dismissing the plea of Samuel, told that he should have made the request to the concerned authority, seeking reimbursement of expenses for appearing as a witness.
The bench also denied him relief, saying he had not approached the court in the last 11 years. Court told that For all these years, you were silent. Now you want a court order at this stage.
In his plea Samuel told that the existing system of payment of expenses to the prosecution witness in criminal cases, commissions of enquiry, departmental proceedings and court martial proceedings is inadequate. His plea said, “the amount paid for expenses has no relationship with the actual expenses incurred by the witnesses.”
In his plea, Samuel also told that because of his daily attendance as a witness at different fora, he was not in a position to take up a job of permanent nature.
The case dates to 2001 when news portal tehelka.com carried out a sting operation that caught Laxman on camera receiving cash from a journalist posing as an arms dealer. He later resigned as the BJP president.
Tehelka had released CDs showing Laxman accepting money for promise of assistance to a fictitious Britain-based company, M/s West End International, in securing a contract for the supply of thermal imagers to the Indian Army.
The CBI filed the chargesheet against Jaitley and two others in 2006.
Earlier this year, Samuel refused to testify as a witness in a trial court against two former officials of the defence ministry facing trial for graft in the case.
He had said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had not reimbursed his travel and other allowances. He had refused to depose in the case if he was not paid Rs.10,000 per day.