Let a responsible senior law officer file an affidavit, says Bench

A responsible senior law officer should file an affidavit for the delay by the CBI in filing an appeal in the Babri Masjid demolition case, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

“Senior counsel P.P. Rao [appearing for the CBI] has given us the list of dates explaining the delay of 167 days in filing appeal. Having gone through the list, we are of the opinion that the delay was caused in drafting the special leave petition and thereafter in getting the approval of the senior law officer,” a Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and J.S. Khehar said in a brief order.

It directed that an application, explaining the reasons for the delay, “be filed within a week, response by the respondents within a week thereafter. List on April 16.”

The court was hearing a special leave petition filed by the CBI against an Allahabad High Court judgment upholding the dropping of a conspiracy charge by the special court against BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti and 18 others in the case.

Earlier, Mr. Rao submitted that all approvals were obtained by the CBI before the limitation period, but thereafter the delay was caused by the drafting counsel who was busy with the 2G matter and he was also sick for some time. Further, several documents running into hundreds of pages were in Hindi and they had to be translated into English. Orders in Hindi had also to be translated into English.

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for Mr. Advani and Dr. Joshi, said: “there has been a considerable delay in filing the appeal and the court cannot condone the delay. The entirety of the case shows the recklessness of the institution [CBI].”

Justice Dattu told counsel, “Basically, the delay seems to be on the part of the law officer, who should have filed an affidavit explaining the delay. We will take his explanation to see whether delay can be condoned. Delay on the part of the law officer should not defeat the interest of the client.”

Senior counsel Ravishankar Prasad, appearing for some of the respondents, opposed condonation of the delay. He said it showed the conduct of the CBI in prosecuting eminent national leaders. It was a case of political prosecution, which the court must understand.

Justice Dattu asked counsel: “Why are you opposing. Is your case weak on merits? We will ask the law officer to file an affidavit.”

Counsel said: “we have a strong case on merits.”

On May 20, 2010, the High Court upheld the May 4, 2001 special court order and dismissed the CBI’s revision plea for a direction to proceed with the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others.

The CBI filed the appeal nearly nine months after the High Court verdict, with an application for condonation of delay as appeal should have been filed within 90 days of the verdict. Mr. Advani and others said the accused in crime No 198/1992 had appeared before the special court in Rae Bareli and charges were framed against them to which they had pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.

The Bench posted the case to April 16.