Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would consider the issue of maintainability raised by the Centre on a plea seeking an SIT probe into alleged irregularities in the purchase of an Agusta helicopter for VVIP use by the Chhattisgarh government and look into the CAG report on the matter.
While dealing with the plea filed by Swaraj Abhiyan, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R Banumathi said the issue of maintainability would arise as it would deal with the question whether applying for registration as a political party takes away an organisation’s right to raise issues relating to the economy of the country. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the apex court that petitioner Swaraj Abhiyan has applied to Election Commission for registration as a political party called ‘Swaraj India’ and the issue relating to purchase of the helicopter has been gone into by the CAG as well as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Chhattisgarh Assembly.
“We will hear after four weeks (the issue of) maintainability of the plea and also the CAG report. Cases like 2G and Coal are fundamentally based on CAG reports. We will see the CAG report (in the matter),” the bench said.
When senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for Swaraj Abhiyan, said in the 2G case, the apex court had held that such petitions are maintainable, the bench said, “we want this controversy to rest”.
“Assuming if one has applied for registration as a political party, does it take away his right to raise such issue relating to economy of the country? We will deal with it,” the bench said. However, Bhushan told the bench that Swaraj Abhiyan and Swaraj India were separate organisations.
On the issue of maintainability of the plea, Rohatgi said some of the petitioners in the matter were either politicians or related to political parties and they were “scandalising” the issue. He said the helicopter was purchased almost 10 years ago after tendering process and there was no violation of fundamental rights as claimed by the petitioners. “Even if (petitioners) feel that an alleged offence has been committed, they have to go to police first. They have come to the court. How will the Supreme Court answer this? Documents of CAG and PAC of the Assembly are there,” he said.
Bhushan alleged that helicopter was purchased at a higher price by the state government. However, the bench observed, “whether a state minister or the Chief Minister should have a helicopter or not, we will not enter into that area. We don’t think we should encroach into that area”. To this, Bhushan said, “I am only saying it should have been purchased from the company and not through middleman”.
On the allegation by Bhushan that tender floated by state government was for a single vendor, the bench asked Rohatgi “how can a tender be floated for one vendor only?” To this, the Attorney General said certain specifications were required for the helicopter and ultimately it was purchased after tendering process. “Where is the question of any criminality? The CAG, PAC of the Assembly has looked into it,” he said. When the counsel for one of the petitioners claimed that names of a prominent politician from the state and his kin were there in the Panama papers, the bench shot back, “Don’t mix it. We are not hearing Panama matter”.
The apex court observed, “since 2006, PILs are taking a different turn. We don’t mind it but there must by genuineness in PILs”. During arguments, Bhushan said CBI was already probing a case of purchase of choppers from AgustaWestland by the Centre so “what is the problem if this matter is also investigated”. Rohatgi said in the case which is being probed by CBI, it was discovered that there was involvement of middlemen and “India doesn’t allow middlemen”.
“The Centre acted. The Ministry of Defence acted. They have cancelled some contracts. Litigation is going on. CBI is probing the case but that has nothing to do with the helicopter purchased by Chhattisgarh government way back in 2006-07.” At the fag end of hearing, the bench detagged from the main issue a PIL seeking a court-monitored probe by CBI and Enforcement Directorate in AgustaWestland helicopter scam case and allegation that some mediapersons took bribes from foreign arms dealers in connection with the deal. The bench listed this plea for hearing after six weeks.
Earlier, the Centre had questioned the maintainability of petition filed by Swaraj Abhiyan and had said a “political protagonist” cannot approach the court in the “guise of a public interest litigation to settle political scores”. Swaraj Abhiyan is led by former Aam Aadmi Party members — psephologist Yogendra Yadav, advocate Prashant Bhushan and others. The Attorney General had said that another plea on a similar issue has been filed by T N Singhdeo, the Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh Assembly, and such a petition at his instance is not maintainable.
Rohatgi had also contended that the Centre has cancelled all contracts with AgustaWestland after the allegations of irregularities surfaced. The apex court had on September 23 asked the Centre to clarify its stand on the plea which also sought an SIT probe into foreign bank accounts purportedly linked to the son of Chief Minister Raman Singh. The petition has sought an SIT probe into the purchase of a chopper in 2007-08 by the state government.
“The actions of the Chhattisgarh government in issuing a pre-decided tender inviting bids for the purchase of specific model of a specific brand of helicopter for VIP movement shows a complete mala fide intention on the part of the respondents to subvert the tendering process and to make sure that a pre-decided seller would be given the contract,” the plea has said. “The petitioner is also seeking an inquiry into the alleged offshore accounts of Abhishek Singh (son of Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh) a few months after the alleged scam in the purchase of Agusta helicopter for VIP use,” the plea, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, said.
It has alleged that so far no genuine attempt has been made to investigate this deal.