Tamil Nadu

Court delivers split verdict in disproportionate case against TN Minister Rajenthra Bhalaji

The Madras High Court   | Photo Credit: File

Two judges of the Madras High Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict on whether Milk and Dairy Development Minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji must be booked on charges of amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.

Justice M. Sathyanarayanan eschewed a preliminary inquiry report giving him a clean chit, filed by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption and insisted on registering an FIR against the Minister to conduct a full-fledged investigation. However, Justice R. Hemalatha differed with him and ordered that there was no need to do so after the State government had accepted the preliminary report and dropped further proceedings in the matter.

In view of the contradicting decisions taken by the two judges in the Division Bench, the matter would now be placed before Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee to nominate a third judge before whom the case would be listed for a fresh hearing. The split judgement was delivered on a writ petition filed in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in 2013 seeking a DVAC probe against the Minister.

On June 12, 2018 Justices Sathyanarayanan and Hemalatha had directed the DVAC to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegation by appointing an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer in the rank of Superintendent of Police and to file periodic reports before the court in sealed covers. They said such an inquiry was essential in public interest and in the interest of purity of administration.

After filing a series of status reports, State Public Prosecutor A. Natarajan, in December 2019, informed the court that the DVAC had submitted a negative report to the Vigilance Commissioner on July 27, 2019. The then Vigilance Commissioner Mohan Pyare forwarded the report to the government which, in turn, decided to drop further proceedings on August 10, 2019.

Expressing surprise over the DVAC having conducted a full-fledged investigation in the guise of a preliminary inquiry and without registering an FIR against the Minister, Justice Sathyanarayanan, during the subsequent hearings, wondered whether examination of 90 witnesses and collection of 94 documents could be termed as a preliminary inquiry. He also pointed out that the DVAC had submitted a 63-page inquiry report along with supporting documents totally running to over 700 pages.

He went on to state that it was not a case where the DVAC did not find any substance at all. In fact, the DVAC had found the Minister to have possessed assets disproportionate to known sources of his income. Yet, it chose not to prosecute him because the difference between known sources of income and the value of the assets was less than 10%

Stating that the scope of a preliminary inquiry was restricted to find out whether a complaint had made out commission of a cognizable offence or not, the judge asked how the DVAC could go to the extent of according the benefit of 10% permissible variation as per the 1977 Supreme Court judgement in Krishnanand Agnihotri’s case and decide not to prosecute the Minister.

Possibly, such a conclusion could be reached after registering an FIR and conducting a full-fledged investigation, but definitely not at the stage of preliminary inquiry, the judge said. In reply, senior counsel M. Ajmal Khan, representing the Minister, had said that ordering a full-fledged investigation at this stage would be a futile exercise since the DVAC had already found that there was no need to prosecute.

He also said it was the second time that the DVAC had conducted a preliminary inquiry against the Minister and the government had decided to drop all further proceedings. A similar exercise had been carried out in 2014 too but not satisfied with it, the court had ordered for yet another inquiry in 2018. “Keeping this case pending for nine years itself is a punishment,” he told the court.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 12:26:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/court-delivers-split-verdict-in-disproportionate-case-against-tn-minister-rajenthra-bhalaji/article33988536.ece

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