Two days after union minister and former Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh celebrated his birthday and 50 years in politics, a court yesterday framed corruption charges against him and his wife Pratibha Singh. Special Judge BL Soni, while pronouncing the order, said the “materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy by Virbhadra and Pratibha Singh”.
The trial court adjourned the case sine die pending a Himachal Pradesh High Court decision on Virbhadra Singh’s petition seeking either the transfer of the corruption case to the CBI or quashing a police complaint against him and his wife. It means the trial court will now hear the case after a green signal from the high court.
“Charges framed under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 7, 11 and 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act against accused Virbhadra Singh and under Section 120-B of the IPC and Section 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act against accused Pratibha Singh,” the 31-page order said.
Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh were booked by Himchal Pradesh Police on August 3, 2009, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of official position and criminal misconduct when he was the chief minister in 1989. According to the police, the couple was booked on the basis of an audio cassette released by Virbhadra Singh’s political adversary Vijai Singh Mankotia in 2007.
The cassette allegedly contained Virbhadra Singh’s telephonic conversation with IAS officer Mohinder Lal, who is now dead. It also contained voices of his wife and some industrialists, who have been identified by the police, proposing to invest in the state.
The court observed, “The matter of grant of permission for establishment of cement plant by Gujarat Ambuja Ltd. and installation of effluent treatment plant by Mohan Meakin Ltd. (a known brewery in Solan town) was pending consideration of the government of which Virbhadra was the chief minister and his wife Pratibha Singh assured the clearance of the projects.”
It said, “As per the procedure prescribed, the arrival of the project, i.e. the cement plant, was to be accorded approval by a sub-committee of four ministers but accused Virbhadra accorded approval without obtaining consent of two other ministers. They are alleged to have received illegal gratification worth Rs 5 lakh and thereafter, cement plant clearance was given.”
“Mohan Meakin was further granted time for the completion of the plant/machinery. Accused Virbhadra being chief minister was the public servant. The materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy against Virbhadra, Pratibha Singh and deceased Mohinder Lal.” While hearing the petition of Virbhadra Singh, the high court in January observed that the trial court was free to examine the accused.