The Delhi High Court on Friday sought a response from the Delhi Government on the Centre’s plea seeking quashing of FIR lodged by the previous Arvind Kejriwal government against Oil Minister M. Veerappa Moily and others for alleged irregularities in raising gas prices and restrained authorities from taking any coercive action against them.
Justice Manmohan, who posted the matter for further hearing on May 20 after issuing notice to Delhi Government to respond in a week’s time, said that Delhi Government’s Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) can continue with its investigation.
However, it will not take any coercive action against those named in the FIR, including officials and the private parties, the court said.
The ACB had lodged the FIR in February on the direction of the then Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The court direction came on Friday on oral submission made by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi who appeared for private parties and requested that there be no further investigation in the case.
'No coercive action'
“Issue notice. She (counsel for Delhi Government) is permitted to file counter reply within a week. You (Delhi Government’s Anti Corruption Branch) carry on your investigation but no coercive action shall be taken against Union of India and against any of its officials related to it,” the court said.
Mr. Kejriwal had directed the Anti Corruption branch to register an FIR on the basis of a complaint by four prominent people, including former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian.
The complaint alleged that Mr. Moily, former Oil Minister Murli Deora and others had colluded with Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani to raise the price of natural gas at the cost of the common man. All of them have denied the allegations.
The Kejriwal-led Delhi government had lodged the FIR naming Mr. Moily, Mukesh Ambani and others on gas pricing issue and had alleged the Congress-led UPA government “favoured” RIL with an eye on 2014 general elections and BJP maintained “silence” hoping to gain corporate funding for the polls.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran had sought quashing of the FIR saying Anti-Corruption branch of the Delhi Government has “no powers or jurisdiction to investigate” complaints against the Union Government’s decision to fix prices of natural gas.
During the hearing, Mr. Singhvi said, “This probe is to humiliate and score a political point. It is a way of saying that look I have brought the high and mighty down. If the investigation is not stopped, it will completely undermine the federal structure in which we will have states filing cross complaints against other states and the Centre.”
During the proceedings, the court, which observed that the case was registered on some senior person’s direction, said “can the police register the case on anyone’s direction“.
“Is it that if any politician will ask the police to register the case, they will accordingly file? They (police) need to apply their own mind,” the court said.
After Delhi Government’s counsel Zubeda Begum sought time to reply on the plea, the judge said, “I cannot make the writ petition infructuous as it has a serious law issue.”
The court also said how a sub-inspector will understand gas pricing.
During the hearing, the Solicitor General argued that Anti Corruption Branch investigates the role of people only if they are concerned with the Delhi administration.
It has lack of jurisdiction, especially with the fixing of the gas pricing as it falls under the central government, he said, adding that if it happens, then tomorrow any state government can register such cases.
He said that Delhi government should have approached CBI, as it is an appropriate agency for investigation of such cases.
“How can they (Delhi’s Anti Corruption Branch) go before the wrong authority? Let them go before proper forum. Why were they in such a hurry to register the case,” he argued.
Mr. Moily and Mr. Ambani have vehemently denied the allegations.
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) last week had moved the Delhi High Court for quashing of the FIR.
In its petition seeking quashing of the FIR, the Centre argued that by registering the FIR the Delhi government was “seeking to investigate decisions in regard to gas price fixation which falls in the exclusive domain of the central government”.