The Supreme Court said that the Madras High Court should not have kept the inquiry report against former Tamil Nadu Minister SP Velumani inside a sealed cover, and should have given a copy to him.

SP Velumani speaking at an event
news Court Sunday, May 22, 2022 - 09:42

The Supreme Court on Friday, May 20, expressed its discontent with a Madras High Court order, which declined to entertain former Tamil Nadu Minister SP Velumani's plea seeking a copy of the preliminary report in a corruption case, which was presented to the High Court in a sealed cover.  A bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana said: "I don't want to use the word but, regime revenge! See your government… Persons will come and go, governments will continue." The bench, also comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, said the investigation agencies have to be fair, whichever may party is in power.

A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, and justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli said, "In our considered opinion, the High Court has committed a patent error in not taking the matter to its logical conclusion. Without considering the material before it, and by merely relying on the submissions made by the counsel for the state, the High Court has made sweeping observations which are prejudicial to the appellant."

The top court said that it does not agree with the objection of the Tamil Nadu government in connection with providing a report to the former minister. It pointed out this is what happens when political scores are permitted to be settled in courts and added that there was no good reason for the High Court “to have permitted the report to have remained shrouded in a sealed cover".

Taking note of the change of the government stand after the regime change in the state, the bench said, "it is a settled principle that the State cannot blow hot and cold at the same time. When the State Government changed its stand, the High Court neither provided the appellant an opportunity to defend himself, nor sought a reasoned justification from the State for having turned turtle."

The bench said that it was the High Court which had ordered that a preliminary enquiry be conducted and a report be submitted by the special investigating officer.

"However, once the enquiry was completed, the High Court failed to even peruse the said report. Rather, the High Court left the decision completely in the hands of the State Government. Such an approach, as adopted by the High Court in the present matter, cannot be countenanced in law," it said.

The counsel, representing the petitioner, a former Municipal Administration Minister, submitted that an FIR was filed against his client only because there was a change in the regime in the state. The bench, however, noted that the inquiry was conducted at the instance of the High Court and the report was submitted after that. It said, “Suppose tomorrow an inquiry is ordered, and the agency submits a report, and then says that it should be kept in a sealed cover.”

"If the high court accepted the PIL, ordered an inquiry.. a report is submitted, how can the high court say this," noted the bench.

The counsel for the Tamil Nadu government contended that the high court had kept the inquiry report inside a sealed cover. The top court reserved the order on an appeal filed by Velumani against the High Court order, which declined his request for a copy of the preliminary inquiry report.

"In view of the aforesaid discussion, and taking into consideration the peculiar facts of the instant case, particularly the fact that the High Court had ordered an enquiry and obtained a report without furnishing a copy thereof to the appellant and unceremoniously closed the writ petition, we deem it appropriate to issue the following directions -- The High Court is directed to supply a copy of the report submitted by Ms. R. Ponni, Superintendent of Police along with the other documents to the appellant herein," the bench said.

In November last year, the High Court had directed the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) to complete its investigation into the corruption allegations against the former minister and file the final report within 10 weeks. The court had passed directions on two petitions, one of which was filed by RS Bharathi of the ruling DMK. RS Bharathi has alleged before the High Court that Velumani misused his powers as a minister to influence the tender process and ensured that tenders were awarded to his close aides in the municipal corporations.

Bharathi on September 11, 2018, had filed a complaint with the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption and also filed a criminal petition in Madras High Court. After no action was taken on his complaint, he filed a writ petition before the High Court seeking registration of a case against the ex-minister and setting up of SIT to investigate the matter.

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