The Madras High Court on Thursday refused to give a quietus to a public interest litigation petition accusing Minister for Milk and Dairy Development K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji of having amassed wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.
The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) gave him a clean chit on July 27 and the government decided to drop all further proceedings on August 10.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and R. Hemalatha were persistent in examining the validity of an exhaustive “preliminary inquiry” conducted by the DVAC without registering a First Information Report against the Minister. The judges wanted senior counsel I. Subramanian and M. Ajmal Khan, representing the Minister, to convince the court whether it was legally permissible to conduct a detailed inquiry in the guise of a preliminary inquiry.
They also wanted to know whether the investigating officer was right in deciding unilaterally that the Minister need not be prosecuted because only less than 10% of his assets were found to be disproportionate to his known sources of income in the preliminary inquiry. They wondered whether it was for the police or the court concerned to apply the benefit of a 1977 Supreme Court verdict, which provides for a permissible variation of less than 10%.
‘No hard and fast rule’
In reply, Mr. Subramanian said there was no hard and fast rule that all preliminary inquiries should be completed within a short span of time and should not be elaborate.
“Though the nomenclature is ‘preliminary inquiry,’ depending upon the nature of a complaint the inquiry could be detailed too. There’s no straitjacket formula. In this case, the inquiry had to be done in detail because the court was seeking status reports periodically.
“What was initially thought of as a preliminary inquiry became a detailed inquiry because of the sequence this case took with this court seeking status reports. Your Lordships had gone through the reports and also gave guidelines. The preliminary inquiry as directed by this court was completed and a report was submitted to the Vigilance Commissioner and it went up to the government. Therefore, now the case should be given a quietus,” he argued.
Claiming that there was no deliberate attempt on the part of DVAC to convert a preliminary inquiry into a detailed inquiry, the senior counsel said voluminous documents and materials that had to be gone through for a very long check period of 22 years had led to the preliminary inquiry turning out to be a detailed inquiry. “There was absolutely no bias. IPS officers had conducted the preliminary inquiry and submitted a report to Vigilance Commissioner,” he pointed out.