The apex court has set aside the order of the Madras High Court exonerating Nehru, a former transport minister, and his wife terming their discharge pending investigation as “visibly prematured” and “unsustainable in law as well as on facts”.
Nehru, his wife Shanta and son Arun are accused of acquiring assets disproportionate to their known sources of income during his tenure as the transport minister of Tamil Nadu between 2006 and 2011.
Currently an MLA from the Tiruchirappalli West constituency, he has been a four-time legislator of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party.
“The impugned order directing the discharge of the respondents is hereby set aside and the order of the Trial Court vis-a-vis them is restored,” a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy said.
It directed the vigilance department to complete further investigation at the earliest so as to enable the trial court to proceed in accordance with law.
The bench upheld the direction of High Court and the trial court for further probe and said the probe agency should keep in mind “the seriousness of the charge and the avowed objectives of the anti-corruption law involved and conduct the investigation as expected of it and submit its report as expeditiously as possible”.
The apex court allowed the appeal of the state government challenging the High Court order exonerating Nehru and his wife but affirming the direction for further probe against his son Arun.
“Having regard to the FIR, the explanation provided by the respondent No.1 (Nehru), the charge-sheet submitted as well as the indispensability of the scrutiny of the sources of income of Arun and his assets, we are of the view that the courts below had rightly directed further investigation to verify the genuineness or otherwise of the source(s) of income of Arun and his assets and the bearing thereof, if any, on the charge levelled against the respondents,” it said.
The court observed that the High Court, having endorsed the direction for further investigation vis-a-vis Arun, ought not to have recorded its findings of exoneration of Nehru and his wife at this stage.
“In fact, the discharge of the respondents flies in the face of the direction for further investigation into the affairs of Arun in order to verify the lawfulness or otherwise of his source of income and his assets.
“In our estimate, in view of the correlation of the explanation provided by the respondent No.1 to the imputation of disproportionate assets and the probe ordered into the affairs of Arun, to say the least, the discharge of the respondents before the completion of the investigation is visibly prematured,” the bench said.
Nehru in his explanation about his income said he had received the amount only from his son Arun and the latter had received remuneration for which he had paid TDS under the Income Tax Act and therefore the question of disproportionateness of his assets did not arise.
The court said that the exoneration of Nehru and his wife pending investigation amounted to “prejudging the charge” against them.
“We have thus no hesitation to hold that the order of the High Court, discharging the respondents herein, pending the investigation against Arun, at this stage, is unsustainable in law as well as on facts,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state government, contended that on taking into account the materials on record, the High Court ought not to have discharged them at this stage while affirming further probe into the sources of income of Arun.
He said the outcome of the further probe would have a vital bearing on the charge leveled against the accused and their discharge at this stage is wholly unwarranted.
Counsel appearing for Nehru and others said that the available materials do not substantiate the allegation and the discharge of the respondents is perfectly justified and does not merit any interference.
An FIR was lodged in 2011 against Nehru, his wife and son by the Deputy Superintendent of Police (vigilance & anti- corruption), Trichy, alleging that Nehru while serving as the transport minister had acquired assets in his name and in the names of his wife and son far beyond their known sources of income.
Before the check-period (May 13, 2006-March 24, 2011) both husband, wife and son had assets worth over Rs 2.83 crore which swelled to over Rs 18.52 crore at the end of the period.
After the charge sheet was filed against them, the accused moved trial court seeking discharge but the court ordered further probe into the assets and income of Arun.
The High Court on December 19, 2013, exonerated Nehru and his wife but affirmed further probe into the assets and income of Arun.