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Common Cause & Others Versus Union of India & Others

2016 (339) E.L.T. 193 (SC) - 'Official secret' for the purposes of prosecuting Mr. Prashant Bhushan - Held that:- It is true that this Court had required the Director, CBI to ensure, by its order dated 8th May, 2013 that the secrecy of the inquiries and investigations into the allocation of coal blocks is maintained. However, if somebody accesses documents that ought to be carefully maintained by the CBI, it is difficult to find fault with such a whistle blower particularly when his or her actio .....

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empt by Mr. Ranjit Sinha to scuttle the investigations into the affairs of the Dardas or others in the Coal Block Allocation case. As mentioned above, we are not considering whether the file notes actually disclose an attempt by Mr. Sinha to scuttle the investigations. All that is of relevance is whether the disclosure by the whistle blower was mala fide or not. We are of the opinion that the disclosures made by the whistle blower were intended to be in public interest. - In these circumstan .....

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we are of the opinion that the file notes in this case cannot be described as an ‘official secret’ for the purposes of prosecuting Mr. Prashant Bhushan. - I.A. No.13/2014 and Crl.MP No.387/2015 in Writ Petition (C) No.463/2012 - Dated:- 14-5-2015 - Madan B. Lokur Kurian Joseph And A.K. Sikri JJ. Mr. Prashant Bhushan, AOR and Mr. Pranav Sachdeva, Adv. for the Petitioners. Mrs. Shally Bhasin, AOR, Mr. Ramendra Mohan Patnaik, AOR, Mr. D. Mahesh Babu, AOR, Mr. Tapesh Kumar Singh, AOR, Mohd. Waquas, .....

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Respondents. ORDER Madan B. Lokur, J. 1. The prayer in IA No.13/2014 filed by Common Cause & others is two-fold: (1) Direct Mr. Ranjit Sinha, Director CBI, not to interfere in the coal block allocation case investigations and prosecutions being carried out by the CBI and to recuse himself from these cases. (2) Direct an SIT appointed by the Hon ble Court to investigate the abuse of authority committed by the CBI Director in order to scuttle inquires, investigations and prosecutions being car .....

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erefore, concerned only with the second prayer in the application. 3. The prayer in Crl. MP No.387/2015 filed by Mr. Ranjit Sinha is as follows: A. Direct the concerned Police Station to register an FIR against Mr. Prashant Bhushan, the Petitioner Association (i.e. Common Cause) and Mr. Kamal Kant Jaswal for making deliberate and intentional false statements on oath and before this Hon ble Court in these proceedings, B. Pass other or further orders as may be deemed fit and proper. 4. We propose .....

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Court, a statement was made by the learned Additional Solicitor General that on the next date of hearing, the status of the investigations (into the allotment of coal blocks) shall be made known to this Court through an affidavit filed by a competent authority. The case was then adjourned to 12th March, 2013. 7. Pursuant to the statement made by the learned Additional Solicitor General, a status report was filed by the CBI on 8th March, 2013 in a sealed cover. This status report was perused on 1 .....

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e above order, the Director, CBI filed the requisite affidavit on 26th April, 2013. When the case was taken up on 30th April, 2013 the affidavit filed by the Director, CBI was perused and this Court was of the view that the following aspects needed to be clarified by the Director, CBI: (i) As to why in the status report dated 08.03.2013 no disclosure was made to this Court that the draft report has been shared with the political executive and officials. (ii) What was the basis and reasons for th .....

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d with Joint Secretary level officers each of the Prime Minister s Officer and Ministry of Coal as desired by them but nothing has been said in the affidavit whether or not changes were made in the draft report and, if yes, at whose instance and the extent of changes and whether besides the three persons mentioned in para 4 of the affidavit, the draft report was shared with any other person in that meeting. (iv) The names of the two officers one each of the Prime Minister s Office and Ministry o .....

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rected that the Director, CBI shall henceforth ensure the secrecy of inquiries and investigations into the allocation of coal blocks and that no access of any nature whatsoever is provided to any person or authority including any Minister of the Central Cabinet, Law Officers, Advocates of the CBI, Director of Prosecution and Officials/Officers of the Central Government. 11. It is in the background of the above broad facts relating to the secrecy (and purity) of the investigations that IA No. 13/ .....

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Allocation scam without any of the investigating officers being present. (Emphasis is given by us). It is then stated in Para 10 of the application as follows: It is of particular significance that Mr. Ranjit Sinha had several meetings with Mr. Vijay Darda, and his son Mr. Devendra Darda, who are being investigated in the case of illegal allocation of coal blocks. Mr. Sinha also met with Mr. Subodh Kant Sahay, former Union Minister, whose brother s company is one of the beneficiaries of the allo .....

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aled cover as an annexure to the application. 14. In paragraph 12 of the application a reference is made to Mr. Ranjit Sinha meeting some accused persons in what is commonly known as the 2G spectrum case being an appeal filed by the Centre for PIL. (Civil Appeal No. 10660 of 2010: Centre for PIL v. Union of India) 15. At this stage it is necessary to digress a bit and mention that in the 2G spectrum case, an application was filed by the petitioner therein being IA No. 73 of 2014 in which it was .....

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ommitted by the CBI Director in trying to scuttle investigations and prosecutions being carried out by the CBI in 2G scam cases and other prominent cases… 17. After an elaborate hearing, this Court passed an order in IA No. 73 of 2014 on 20th November, 2014 the relevant portion of which reads as follows: To protect and preserve the sanctity and the fair name of the institution including the reputation of the Office of the Director of CBI, we are not deliberately giving out elaborate reaso .....

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ve, we grant the aforesaid relief sought by the applicants and pass the following orders:- (i) We recall our earlier order passed on 15.09.2014 so far as it relates to I.A. No. 73 of 2014. (ii) We direct Shri Ranjit Sinha, CBI Director not to interfere in the investigation and prosecution of the case relating to the 2G spectrum allocation that is carried out by the CBI, and to recuse himself from the case. (iii) Shri Ranjit Sinha shall be replaced by the senior most officer of the investigating .....

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uary, 2015. Along with the note, he annexed a photocopy of a file in respect of the case against the Dardas (abovementioned). It was submitted by Mr. Prashant Bhushan during the course of his oral submissions that the photocopy of the file was given to him by a whistle blower. 19. In response, the CBI filed a note date 18th September, 2014 in a sealed cover indicating the detailed procedure followed by the CBI before a final decision is taken by a competent authority on closing a case or filing .....

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hereof has not been supplied to the counsel for the CBI and in any case it is the subject matter of an enquiry before another Bench dealing with the 2G spectrum case. 20. The CBI also filed a note dated 20th February, 2015 in a sealed cover. In this note, the merits of the controversy relating to the Dardas are adverted to and the decisions taken by the CBI have been justified. It is also stated that the strength of the CBI lies in the multiple levels of supervision where each level is free and .....

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visitor s diary must also be viewed with suspicion. 22. Our attention has also been drawn to the order dated 8th May, 2013 passed by this Court to the effect that the secrecy of the inquiries and investigations must be ensured. It is submitted in this context that the fact that Common Cause has obtained a copy of the note sheets of the office file indicates that the secrecy of the concerned file has been compromised and that the CBI is taking steps to ascertain how the file moved out of the offi .....

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isal report prepared by the Income Tax Department contained some details in this regard. It is submitted that this allegation was found to be incorrect and was stated so by the learned Attorney General when he appeared in this Court on 17th October, 2014. This Court had also seen the appraisal report and did not find anything to link Mr. Moin Qureshi with Mr. Sinha. 25. It is also stated that in IA No. 13/2014 as well as the additional affidavit filed in support of this application it has been f .....

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without the investigating officer being present. While adverting to this, Mr. Sinha states in paragraph 6 of the application as follows:- That it has wrongly been averred in para 9 that Shri. Sinha (Former Director, CBI) repeatedly overruled the Investigating Officers and forced them not to register FIRs/RCs in cases where PEs had been registered. It has been further wrongly averred that Shri Sinha forced the officials to file closure reports in cases where FIR s has already been registered. 27 .....

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age, to enter the thicket of allegations made by Common Cause with regard to the investigations relating to the Dardas or the alleged attempt by Mr. Ranjit Sinha to scuttle the investigations with regard to one or more of the accused persons in that case. What is of greater importance and what has caused us considerable concern is that neither Mr. Ranjit Sinha nor the CBI denies that Mr. Ranjit Sinha had met some persons, including the Dardas, who are accused of criminality in the Coal Block All .....

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bjected to a criminal prosecution. 31. We need not comment on the opinion of Mr. Ranjit Sinha expressed through his learned counsel Mr. Vikas Singh except to say that even if Mr. Sinha is right, there cannot at all be any justification for him to meet any accused person in a criminal case where investigation is underway, without the investigating officer being present, whether it is in his office or as alleged by Mr. Prashant Bhushan, at his residence and that too, allegedly, several times inclu .....

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y to ensure that an innocent person is not subjected to a criminal trial. This responsibility is coupled with an equally high degree of ethical rectitude required of an investigating officer or an investigating agency to ensure that the investigations are carried out without any bias and are conducted in all fairness not only to the accused person but also to the victim of any crime, whether the victim is an individual or the State. 33. In Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma v. State (2010) 6 SCC 1 .....

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accused is entitled to fairness and true investigation and fair trial and the prosecution is expected to play balanced role in the trial of a crime. The investigation should be judicious, fair, transparent and expeditious to ensure compliance with the basic rule of law. These are the fundamental canons of our criminal jurisprudence and they are quite in conformity with the constitutional mandate contained in Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India. 34. Similarly, in Manohar Lal Sharma ( .....

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investigating agency is supposed to discharge its responsibility with competence, promptness, fairness and uninfluenced and unhindered by external influences. 35. In the present case, the contention of the learned counsel appearing on behalf of Mr. Sinha is that there is nothing to indicate that his client tried to scuttle the investigations and the reference to the investigations in the case of the Dardas is completely misplaced. It was contended by learned counsel appearing for the CBI as well .....

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r to have been done, similarly, investigations must not only be fair but must appear to have been conducted in a fair manner. The fact that Mr. Sinha met some of the accused persons without the investigating officer or the investigating team being present disturbs us with regard to the fairness of the investigations. This is all the more so if we keep in mind the fact that in the 2G scam investigations, this Court had concluded in its order dated 20th November, 2011 that Mr. Ranjit Sinha should .....

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ecessary to ensure that the investigations have been fair in the coal block allocation cases where Mr. Sinha has had one or more meetings with one or more accused persons. 37. Learned counsel appearing for the CBI passionately submitted that any adverse order that we may pass in this regard would irreparably damage the credibility of the CBI. In our opinion this argument is fallacious. If an independent inquiry shows that the CBI has acted fairly, it will enhance its institutional credibility an .....

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anaki (2014) 5 SCC 377 to contend that when a palpably false statement is made for extraneous reasons, it is an appropriate case for the exercise of jurisdiction under Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (for short the Code). 39. Similarly, reference was made to State of Madhya Pradesh v. Narmada Bachao Andolan & Anr. (2011) 7 SCC 639 where also this Court observed that it is a settled proposition of law that a false statement made in Court or in the pleadings to intentionally .....

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r dealing with cases involving the revenue of the State and there was no reason to silence such a person by invoking the contempt powers of the Court under the Constitution or the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. 41. Though the submissions made by Mr. Sinha s learned counsel on the contents of his application were limited, the oral submissions spread over a larger canvas. It is submitted by Mr. Vikas Singh that Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Common Cause and Mr. Kamal Kant Jaswal have not only committed per .....

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the secrecy of the inquiries and investigations into the allocation of coal blocks is maintained. However, if somebody accesses documents that ought to be carefully maintained by the CBI, it is difficult to find fault with such a whistle blower particularly when his or her action is in public interest. It is another matter if the whistle blower uses the documents for a purpose that is outrageous or that may damage the public interest. In that event, it would be permissible for this Court or an a .....

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