A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha observed that the High Court had correctly concluded that it could not issue directions to prevent an investigation in the case.
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to interfere with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) probe against All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee in the West Bengal school jobs for cash scam case.
The top court upheld a Calcutta High Court decision to dismiss a plea by Banerjee to recall an order which allowed the CBI and ED to interrogate him in the case.
The Supreme Court, however, set aside the costs of ₹25 lakh imposed on Banerjee by the High Court on May 18, although it clarified that such a direction should not be interpreted as an expression on the merits of the High Court judge’s approach.
A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha observed that the single judge of the High Court had correctly concluded that a direction to prevent the investigation from being carried out could not be issued by the High Court.
Hence, the bench refused to interfere with the High Court order, opining that such interference would stifle the investigation.
However, the Court left it open for Banerjee to pursue other remedies including the one under Section 482 (saving of inherent powers of High Court) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
“Single judge held that there is no reason to prevent the investigation being carried out by ED considering the ramifications of the matter. It can be seen that single judge has correctly come to the conclusion that such a direction cannot be issued at the present stage. We are therefore not inclined to interfere with the order as it would stifle the investigation at this stage. However we leave it open to the petitioner to pursue remedies including Section 482,” the Court’s order stated.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Banerjee, argued that there were errors in the order.
He also expressed concern about the ED’s actions based on an allegation made by a judge in an order, while terming such a course to be shocking.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju stated that ₹350 crores had been found so far in the primary school teacher recruitment scam. He emphasized that Banerjee should cooperate when summoned for investigation.
He added that even if there were any bias on the part of the High Court judge, it should not prevent the ED from conducting its investigation as the agency has inherent powers.
The Supreme Court bench noted that it may not be appropriate to stifle the investigation at this stage and that the ED has independent powers to investigate various facets of the case.
The Court then clarified that if Banerjee were to avail of other remedies, the High Court’s observations would not come in his way.
The top court was hearing a plea by Banerjee challenging an order of the Calcutta High Court that had allowed the ED and the CBI to investigate his alleged role in the scam.
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court had, on April 13, ordered a CBI and ED probe against Banerjee in the case.
The High Court order was passed on a plea by the ED for protection from action by the State Police against its officers after one of the accused, Kuntal Ghosh, made some allegations against the agency.
Ghosh had alleged that the officers were subjecting him to torture and forcing him to implicate Banerjee in the case.
Later, the matter was transferred from Justice Gangopadhyay to Justice Amrita Sinha.
Banerjee and Ghosh’s applications to recall the earlier order passed by Justice Gangopadhyay were dismissed by Justice Amrita Sinha on May 18. While doing so, the judge also imposed costs of ₹25 lakh each on both of them.
In her order, Justice Sinha also pulled up the two central agencies for their slow pace in the investigations.