Centre opposes PIL plea in PNB case, says probe on

Petition wanted Supreme Court to initiate investigation and direct the government to bring back diamond merchant Nirav Modi in two months

Updated - November 28, 2021 07:56 am IST

Published - February 22, 2018 12:23 am IST - NEW DELHI

Fiery protest:  Youth Congress activists staging a protest at a PNB branch in Bhopal.

Fiery protest: Youth Congress activists staging a protest at a PNB branch in Bhopal.

The Centre on Wednesday opposed a PIL petition in the Supreme Court for an investigation into the alleged ₹11,500-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) banking fraud, saying cases had already been registered and the probe has begun.

The petition asked the court to also direct the government to bring back diamond merchant Nirav Modi, at the centre of the fraud, in two months.

 

“I appear for the government. We are opposing the petition. This is a case in which FIRs have been registered and investigation has started,” Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal submitted before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

Chief Justice Misra said the court would want to know in detail why the government was opposing the petition. “But we will not say anything for now,” the CJI reacted to the government’s submission.

Issue of urgency

But Vineet Dhanda, petitioner and advocate, said the issue was of utmost urgency as a “few influential and connected businessmen have decamped with thousands of crores of public money from right under the nose of the government”.

“But the government still opposes this petition in a country where the small man is hounded for a small loan default,” Mr. Dhanda submitted.

Mr. Dhanda said the court should issue notice now, and direct the government to record its objections in an affidavit.

“He [Mr. Venugopal] is here and he has said that he is opposing. What is the need for issuing notice now? All this big speech will make no impact on us. We are here to hear issues on law alone ... It has become a fashion to see something in the newspapers and come to the Supreme Court,” Chief Justice Misra told Mr. Dhanda.

But Mr. Dhanda said the “whole interest of the country is at stake”, and pushed for a hearing the same afternoon.

“Are you saying that I am here for the publicity,” Mr. Dhanda asked the Bench.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud intervened, saying, “Do not pose questions to the Chief Justice ... this establishes that this is a publicity-oriented litigation.”

“Your Lordship is insulting me ... I have practised law for 16 years and I do not need publicity ... I am here because of this issue ... then let me withdraw my petition and let the SC suo motu take up this issue,” Mr. Dhanda responded.

‘Playing to the gallery’

But Justice Chandrachud observed that petitions were filed to play to the gallery. The court could not pre-empt the government’s investigation.

“We must allow the government to conduct the investigation. In case the government is not doing anything, then we will intervene and not like this,” Justice Chandrachud remarked.

Chief Justice Misra observed that the court wanted to hear the government’s objection to the petition, and posted the case for hearing on March 16.

‘Frame guidelines’

In his petition, Mr. Dhanda argued that the “common factor” found among those like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi was that they all had seemed “very close to the corridors of power”.

The petitioner said letters of undertaking (LoUs) were “magnanimously issued” by the PNB. The petitioner called for guidelines to be framed by the Finance Ministry for loans of over ₹10 crore. In case of default, their passports should be immediately impounded and recovery made from the assets of a “high-loan” borrower. His attached properties should be publicly auctioned. The “rogue” bank officials concerned, whether serving or retired, should also be made liable. Their properties should be attached and criminal cases lodged against them.

Mr. Dhanda also asked for a list of borrowers whose bank loans are worth over ₹500 crore.

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