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‘Who’ll probe murky affairs between echelons of power?’ Why SC handed Param Bir case to CBI

Supreme Court Thursday transferred all 5 FIRs against former Mumbai Police chief to CBI, citing need for ‘impartial inquiry’ & ‘advancement of principles of justice and fair play’.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday transferred the investigation of all five First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged against suspended Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Brushing aside the Maharashtra government’s fervent objection to Singh’s plea that the central agency probe these cases, a bench of Justices S.K. Kaul and M.M. Sundresh observed that the matter needed to be transferred to CBI for “impartial enquiry” and “advancement of principles of justice and fair play”.

Facing charges of extortion, corruption and criminal intimidation, Singh has claimed that he is a victim of a “witch hunt” by the Maharashtra government, and that he “did not trust” the Mumbai Police force with the task of probing the allegations. 

“When murky affairs are going on between the echelons of power, then who should investigate?” the bench remarked, in a reference to the tussle between the former Mumbai Police chief and ex-Maharashtra home minister Anil Desmukh. Deshmukh is facing a CBI probe on Singh’s complaint alleging that he had used the police to run an extortion racket.

The bench told Maharashtra government counsel and senior advocate Darius Khambata that the entire episode reflected on “the State and the whole administration”, and “creates dilution of authority where the home minister and the commissioner are involved in serious allegations”.

“It has become a show in front of the public (of) how systems do not work. This matter should be investigated and resolved at the earliest because it has an element of public faith in the administration which is involved,” the bench further said.

The apex court also faulted the Bombay High Court which had refused to accept Singh’s plea for viewing the case as a “service dispute” between the suspended police commissioner and the Maharashtra government. 

“We are unable to accept the findings of the HC, which treats these as service disputes. We set aside the HC verdict,” it said.

The bench, however, did not revoke Singh’s suspension, as it directed the state police to hand over records of all the cases against him to the CBI within a week. 

“Needless to say, all concerned and state police will render full assistance to the CBI to try to get to the truth,” ordered the bench.

Also Read: Don’t want to show evidence in Deshmukh case, untraceable Param Bir Singh tells judicial panel

Param Bir’s past Antilia, Waze, Deshmukh

Singh, a 1988-batch IPS officer, was shunted out as Mumbai’s police commissioner in March last year after alleged lapses in the probe into the recovery of explosives outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai home, Antilia. He was transferred as director general, Home Guards. 

Soon after his suspension, Singh wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that then Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh had directed his officers, including now-dismissed assistant sub-inspector Sachin Waze, to extort Rs 100 crore a month from Mumbai’s bars and restaurants. Deshmukh resigned in April 2021.

Singh was suspended from service by the state government on 2 December, 2021. Following the cases against him, he was given protection from arrest by the SC four days later. The top court had then also restrained the local police from filing a chargesheet against him in the five cases.

Despite the SC order, the police did go on to submit a chargesheet in one of the five cases, forcing the bench to comment against the move.

‘Larger conspiracy’, claims ex-top cop

In his petition, filed before the SC last September, Singh has alleged that the FIRs lodged against him were part of a “larger conspiracy” by the state administration “to frame him”, and that he did not trust the force that he once headed (Mumbai Police) with the task of probing the allegations. He moved the apex court following the Bombay High Court’s decision not to give him any relief.

His petition also said that FIRs had been registered against him after the CBI booked Anil Desmukh on his complaint. It was on this premise that Singh sought the transfer of all his cases to the CBI.  

Singh’s counsel, senior advocate Puneet Bali, cited the “shocking conduct of the state” and how his client was “harassed” following his public disclosure against Desmukh. 

Bali claimed that the Mumbai Police had not only filed a chargesheet against Singh — despite having been restrained by the top court — but also proceeded with a departmental inquiry based on the allegations levelled in the FIRs.

“We are not saying the appellant is a whistleblower, we are not saying anyone in this process is washed with milk. What is the truth, who is at fault, how does such a scenario come to prevail, is something the investigation must get into,” the bench said.

‘Some inter se concerted effort being made’

The Maharashtra government’s suggestion to transfer only one of the five cases — one whose facts overlap with the case against Desmukh — was turned down by the Supreme Court. 

“We do believe there is some inter se (between or amongst themselves) concerted effort being made which requires investigation by an agency outside the state police. We are of the opinion that the state itself should have offered for investigation to be carried out.”

On the state’s contention that the transfer of cases to the CBI would demoralise one of the best police forces in the country, the court opined that they (Mumbai Police) were already “demoralised by what is going on”, and that was one of the concerns prompting the bench to allow the transfer. 

“That is our concern, one of the well-recognised police forces is falling victim to this,” the bench noted.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Param Bir Singh appears before probe panel after months, fined Rs 15,000 but warrant cancelled


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