SC tosses out 'meritless' plea for probe against PM

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea for a court-monitored Special Investigation Team probe into bribery allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the basis of documents seized during the raids on business houses of the Sahara and Birla Groups on the ground that they had no evidentiary value.
 
The case, based on "random materials" like loose sheets, papers, email printouts is "meritless" as they are "inadmissible materials" having "no evidentiary value under the law" for ordering a First Information Report and investigation, more so against high constitutional functionaries whose names are mentioned in the documents, which has been held as prima facie "fabricated" by Income Tax Settlement Commission, the court said.   

The hearing was conducted by a new bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy which said "courts have to be on guard" while dealing with demands for probes against high functionaries as the case in hand was devoid of any "cogent" material or "independent evidence corroborating materials" to order investigation.

The new bench was constituted as Prashant Bhushan, lawyer for Common Cause, had sought recusal of the then Chief Justice of India-designate, Justice J S Khehar, on the ground that his file for elevation for CJI was pending with the executive headed by the Prime Minister.

"There must be some cogent, reliable and admissible evidence. Otherwise the process of law can be abused to achieve ulterior goals," the court observed dismissing the NGO's plea.

Dissatisfied with the loose sheets, which were claimed to be part of the diary entries of the Sahara Group and Aditya Birla Group, containing entries like "Gujarat CM" and other politicians, the bench said materials placed on record by the NGO, Common Cause were not maintained by the two business housed in the regular course of business.

Another bench of the court had earlier termed the loose sheets and other material "zero material" to order investigation.

"In view of the materials placed on record and peculiarity of the facts and circumstances, no case is made out on merits to direct investigation against various political functionaries, officers etc. The interim applications are found to be meritless and are dismissed," the bench said.

The bench also referred to the order passed by the Income Tax Settlement Commission in the Sahara group matter and said that the commission has also found prima facie that materials recovered from the group were not genuine and were fabricated.

"We are constrained to observe that courts have to be at guard while ordering investigation against any important constitutional functionaries. In the absence of some cogent material, the documents on the basis of which investigation is sought is itself inadmissible as evidence," the bench said in its order after a day-long hearing in the matter.

The apex court said, "There has to be, in our opinion, some cogent and admissible evidence and some other circumstances to show that person against whom allegations are levelled is involved in the matter or has done some act in that period which may have correlation with random entries.

"In case we don't insist on all this, the process of law can be abused to achieve ulterior goals and no one can survive in case investigation are readily ordered against constitutional functionaries without cogent materials on record," it said.

It further said, "We find that materials placed on record, either in the case of Birla or Sahara, either excel sheets, diaries, emails etc, they are not maintained in the regular course of business".

Referring to the order of the IT Settlement in Sahara's case has recorded that transactions shown in the purported documents were "not genuine or not have any evidentiary value".

"It is apparent that purported documents of Sahara have not been relied upon by the IT Settlement Commission in the order dated 11 November 2016. With regard to the payments, the documents have not been relied upon.

"Though the findings are not binding, when we examine the findings coupled with the orders passed by this court, we are of the opinion that no case is made out on the merits of these documents and materials which are placed on record to direct investigation against anyone named in the documents in Sahara's case," the bench said.