In October 2013, officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the premises of the Aditya Birla Group of companies. They recovered ₹25 crore in cash kept in an almirah. They also recovered several hard disks of computers, as well as many papers, notebooks, et cetera. The documents recovered showed that large amounts had been paid at various times to various public servants, including politicians, as well as officers of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and other government institutions; particularly, those in the Union ministry of environment and forests.
One of the documents seized from the computer of a senior executive of a company in the Aditya Birla Group, Shubhendu Amitabh, shows a cryptic entry suggesting a payment of ₹25 crore to the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi’.
However, the CBI, instead of acting on this treasure trove of incriminating documents showing serious corruption on the part of the corporate group, did not register a first information report and merely handed over the documents collected to the Income Tax Department.
The department conducted a detailed enquiry into the documents and produced a voluminous report in four parts. After cross-checking the payments and examining various witnesses, the officials came to the conclusion that the payments shown had, in fact, been made.
They alleged that the Aditya Birla Group was getting large amounts of cash through hawala dealers and regularly disbursing the money to various public servants. Though all this was tantamount to indulging in corrupt practices, the income tax department did not pursue the matter with the CBI and merely started some proceedings under the Income Tax Act.
In November 2014, the department raided the Sahara Group of companies and recovered cash worth ₹137 crore from its premises, together with a large number of documents, notebooks, papers as well as computer hard disks.
One of the hard disks contained a spreadsheet showing details of payments of ₹113 crore made to various politicians and public servants and the receipt of ₹115 crore in cash from various sources, particularly the marketing communication company of the Sahara Group.
The spreadsheet was very detailed one, showing not only the amounts paid on different dates but also the place of payment, the person who had taken the money and the person who had received the cash. The dates of the payments were during 2013-14 in the run-up to the 2014 general elections.
In particular, the spreadsheet indicated that payments totalling ₹40 crore had been made on nine different dates in Ahmedabad by one Kanhaiya Jaiswal to the Gujarat chief minister.
The spreadsheet also showed payments of ₹10 crore to the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and ₹4 crore to the Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh among others. The income tax department also tallied the entries in the spreadsheet with the account books of the marketing communication company of Sahara which demonstrated that the amounts of cash shown to have been received on different dates from the company tallied with its own books of accounts.
However, the department did not hand over these records to the CBI for criminal investigation. The person heading the investigation wing of the department was KV Chowdary, who went on to become an advisor to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team on black money and was then appointed by the Modi government as the country’s Chief Vigilance Commissioner, having supervisory powers over anti corruption investigations by the CBI.
Payments to the tune of ₹40 crore were allegedly made in 2013-14 to the then Gujarat CM
On 9 August 2016, the former chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Kalikho Pul, who was removed from his position through an order of the Supreme Court, committed suicide and left a 60-page suicide note signed on every page.
The note made allegations of bribe-taking against several people, but most importantly, against two of the senior-most judges of the country’s apex court, who were members of the bench which decided his case and who later went on to become Chief Justices of India. The then Governor of Arunachal Pradesh asked the government to conduct a CBI investigation saying that the allegations made in the notes were very serious and that a suicide note is treated by law as a dying declaration that has great evidentiary value.
The Government however, did not conduct any investigation into these serious allegations made in Pul’s suicide note. All these cases, that is, the ones relating to the Birla Sahara papers and the Kalikho Pul suicide note, went to the Supreme Court where investigations were sought into the incriminating documents that were recovered.
The Birla Sahara papers cases were initially heard by Justice JS Khehar, who later recused himself after becoming Chief Justice of India. He handed over the case for a decision to Judge Number 12 in the Supreme Court, Justice Arun Mishra, along with another judge. Justice Mishra, who was known to be very close to the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party, heard and quickly disposed of the cases by saying that these documents and papers recovered from the Birla and Sahara Groups of companies had no evidentiary value and therefore could not be made the basis for investigations against persons occupying high positions.
The Pul suicide note was made the subject matter of a letter written by his widow Dangwimsai Pul to the then Chief Justice of India Justice JS Khehar, seeking his permission to register an FIR against himself and Justice Dipak Misra, who was next in line to become Chief Justice.
The letter to Justice Khehar pointed out that the permission of the Chief Justice was required as per the judgement of the Supreme Court in the Veeraswami case. Obviously, since permission was being sought against the CJI himself and the judge who was second in seniority in the court, the judge next in seniority should have decided whether permission should be granted to register an FIR. Instead of this, Justice Khehar listed the matter before Judge Number 14, Justice AK Goyal, who had been Justice Khehar’s subordinate in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh and was known to be his close friend.
Dushyant Dave, senior counsel for Pul’s widow, pointed out to the judges that a letter from her seeking administrative orders of the Chief Justice should not have been converted into a writ petition and listed by the Chief Justice before a very junior judge in the court. He implored them not to hear the matter and send it back to the Chief Justice.
However, on finding that the court was determined to hear the matter, he asked for permission to withdraw the case and the case was withdrawn.
The appointments of KV Chowdary as Chief Vigilance Commissioner and that of another Vigilance Commissioner was challenged by Common Cause in a petition to the Supreme Court that pointed out very serious allegations against both of them. This case too, came to be eventually decided by Justice Arun Mishra, who dismissed the challenge.
This book, Loose Pages, which is about court cases that should have shaken India but didn’t, is a meticulous documentation of what happened during these cases, how certain documents and records were recovered, how they came into the public domain, what exactly were the contents of the documents, what kinds of petitions were filed in court, the proceedings that took place, the interpretation of the laws which govern such issues and how these cases were dealt with by the court.
(From the Preface to the book written by Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, Supreme Court of India)
This article first appeared in the National Herald on Sunday.