In a significant setback to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) detractors, the Supreme Court on April 5 dismissed a petition filed by 14 political parties, which alleged that central investigating agencies, namely Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED), are being misused by the Central Government to crack down on dissent by opposition leaders.
Interestingly, Congress MP and opposition lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi decided to withdraw the petition after Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud expressed doubts about the validity and feasibility of the petition.
The bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice J B Pardiwala said that “laying down general guidelines without having relation to facts of a case will be dangerous”.
The bench said guidelines could not be sought only for politicians based on statistics showing the maximum number of cases by central probe agencies against opposition leaders as they do not enjoy any immunity from prosecution. The court stated that political leaders stand on the same footing as common citizens.
The petition did not take into account the rights and interests of other citizens who might be affected by corruption or criminality, Justice Chandrachud said.
The petition alleged that there was a “drastic and exponential increase” in the number of cases registered by the ED and the CBI against opposition leaders since 2014 when PM Narendra came to power.
Singhvi cited statistics to show that the ED had registered six times more cases in the last seven years than in the previous decade but had a conviction rate of only 23 per cent. He also alleged that 95 per cent of the ED and CBI cases were against opposition leaders nationwide.
The petition claimed this was a clear indication of political vendetta and bias.
However, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud expressed doubts about the validity and feasibility of the petition. He asked Singhvi whether he sought immunity from investigation and prosecution for opposition parties. Much to the embarrassment of the opposition camp said whether they had any special rights as citizens.
Singhvi clarified that he was not asking for any blanket protection or exemption for opposition leaders but only for a fair and impartial application of the law.
He said that the Government was misusing its agencies to weaken and demoralise the opposition.
He also argued that the Government violated the “triple test” laid down by the Supreme Court for arresting accused persons, which requires reasonable grounds, necessity and proportionality. He said that many opposition leaders were being arrested without any evidence or justification, affecting their ability to perform their duties as elected representatives.
The Chief Justice, however, was not convinced by Singhvi’s arguments.
He said that the Supreme Court could not lay down general guidelines or principles for just politicians and that individual cases would be more appropriate to be brought before the court. He also suggested that Singhvi could raise his concerns in parliament.
Singhvi then decided to withdraw his petition, saying that he would come back to the court when there were more specific cases or instances of misuse of power by the Government.
The court urged the parties to come in an appropriate case or group of cases where a political leader is targeted.
“You please come back to us when you have an individual criminal case or group of cases,” the bench said.
Besides the Congress, the parties that were part of the joint move are the DMK, RJD, BRS, Trinamool Congress, AAP, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), JMM, JD(U), CPI(M), CPI, Samajwadi Party and the J-K National Conference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently urged CBI officials and investigators not to be deterred by the criticism from various quarters.