New Delhi: The pending plea of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in a disproportionate assets case was today transferred from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi High Court by the Supreme Court, which said its decision was necessary to protect the judiciary from "embarrassment".
The bench, comprising Justices justices FMI Kalifulla and U U Lalit, brushed aside Singh's initial objection to the decision to transfer the case to Delhi High Court on the ground that it would cast "aspersions" on Himachal High Court.
"We are not expressing any opinion on the merits of the case but simply transferring the petition to the Delhi High Court in the interest of justice and parties and to save the institution (judiciary) from any embarrassment," it said.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for CBI, had questioned the order granting relief to the Chief Minister, asserting that one of the judges of the state High Court bench had recused from hearing a case involving the leader on the ground that he (leader) was once his client.
Transferring the case to the Delhi High Court after recording consent of parties barring the state government which opposed it, the bench ordered deletion of allegations and counter allegations made by either parties against the high court judge and the counsel representing CBI in the case.
The bench allowed CBI to seek modification of the Himachal Pradesh High Court order before the Delhi High Court. The CBI had filed a transfer petition and a special leave petition in the apex court seeking transfer of the case against Singh from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi and setting aside the order passed by the state high court, respectively.
At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Congress leader, opposed the plea of the Attorney General and said it would show the state high court in poor light and a litigant cannot be allowed get its matter transferred. "This would cast aspersion on the high court. Does it mean no judge is fit enough to hear this matter? I don't think this message should be sent," he said and added that the HC judge in question had never appeared as a lawyer for any family member of the Chief Minister facing charges in the assets case.
"We do not want to cause any embarrassment to anybody. We are not going to say anything of this kind in our order. We will simply transfer it Delhi High Court," the bench said.
Sibal later consented. During the hearing, exchange of words took place between Rohatgi and Sibal over the facts and status of the case pending with the Delhi High Court, with the latter claiming that no notice has been issued to Singh.
Rohatgi referred to the High Court order and said that the formal notice was dispensed with as the lawyer for the Chief Minister was already appearing in the case.
Earlier, the apex court had sought responses from Singh and others on two petitions filed by CBI against the High Court order granting protection from arrest and other relief to him and his wife in the case.
The bench, however, had not granted interim stay on the October 1 order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court which had restrained CBI from arresting Singh and his wife in the DA case but had allowed the enquiry in the matter to proceed.
The high court had also directed CBI to keep the court informed before interrogating the couple. The CBI had filed a transfer petition and a special leave petition in the apex court seeking transfer of the case
against Singh from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi and setting aside the order passed by the state high court, respectively.
The chief minister had filed a petition in the high court pleading that the searches on his private residence and other premises were conducted with "malafide intentions and political vendetta" by the central investigating agency. Singh had sought directions from the high court to quash the FIR registered against him and his wife under Sections 13 (2) and 13(1) (e) of Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 109 of IPC by CBI on September 23 here in Delhi.
The Delhi HC is also hearing a PIL filed by NGO, Common Cause, alleging that Singh had received unaccounted money to the tune of nearly Rs 5 crore.
It also referred to his revised IT returns for 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 and claimed that it showed an increase in agricultural income to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore. The IT department, in its status report filed in the Delhi High Court, had contended that it had the locus standi to probe the matter as the properties under question were also located in the national capital.