Virbhadra case: Court puts off decision to shift probe to CBI


Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh High Court Monday reserved its order on the plea of Union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh seeking transfer to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of a corruption case filed against him by the state police.

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After hearing arguments of both parties on the third day, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Deepak Gupta reserved the order.

State counsel Satyapal Jain argued that the decision to transfer the case from the state police to the CBI should be done in the rare of rarest cases.

“There is no solid basis for the transfer of the case to the CBI at this point in time when the government has completed its investigation and is ready to file the chargesheet in the trial court,” he said.

Virbhadra Singh’s counsel R.S. Cheema again argued that the case was registered on the basis of an audio CD whose origin, source and authenticity were not known.

“Since Virbhadra Singh is a public figure and to restore the confidence of the public, the case should be referred to the CBI,” Cheema said.

“Moreover, the inquiry conducted by the government (into the case) was ex parte and it was not fair,” he said.

Virbhadra Singh, five-time former chief minister, moved the high court Sep 14 also seeking that a similar case against Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Director General of Police D.S. Manhas also be investigated.

Before this division bench listed the matter for hearing, three judges of the high court recused themselves from hearing Virbhadra Singh’s plea.

In the petition, Virbhadra Singh said that after Dhumal became chief minister in December 2007, the government registered a case against him and his wife Aug 3, 2008 under the Prevention of Corruption Act on the basis of an audio CD released by his political adversary Vijai Singh Mankotia in 2007.

According to police, Virbhadra Singh was heard allegedly referring to some monetary transactions on the phone with Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Mahinder Lal, who is now dead. The CD also contained the voices of his wife and some industrialists.

The case was listed for its first hearing Sep 17 when Jain gave a verbal undertaking that the state would not file a chargesheet against the petitioner till the matter is pending with the high court.

The high court Sep 3 turned down the union minister’s petition to transfer the case to the CBI.

“Now we are seeking the transfer of the case under Article 226 of the constitution (that deals with special powers of high courts),” his counsel said.

Virbhadra Singh also alleged that when the two audio CDs surfaced – both allegedly containing voices of Dhumal and one containing the voice of Manhas in January this year – the government adopted different yardsticks for their investigation.

In the alleged conversation recorded in one of the CDs, Manhas (then the vigilance chief) was heard asking Dhumal about tapping the phones of Virbhadra Singh and his wife. At this Dhumal replied: “Do it.”

Later talking to reporters, Jain said: “The chargesheet has been prepared on the basis of an inquiry conducted by police official A.P. Singh.”

On filing of the chargesheet in the trial court, he said: “I will advise the government not to file the chargesheet till the matter is pending with the high court.”

The judgment is expected to be pronounced by the high court shortly.