New Delhi: In a major relief for former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the CBI’s appeal challenging the Bombay High Court order granting bail to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader in a corruption case.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices V Ramasubramanian and JB Pardiwala noted that Deshmukh has also been granted bail in the related money laundering case.
The top court said it was not inclined to entertain the Special Leave Petition against the grant of bail by the high court to Deshmukh.
“Since the observations in the impugned order of the High Court are confined to the question as to whether the respondent was entitled to the grant of bail, we clarify that these observations shall be construed only for that purpose.
“In other words, the observations shall not affect the merits of the trial or be pressed in any other collateral proceedings. The Special Leave Petition is accordingly dismissed,” the bench said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the CBI in the matter.
The CBI, in December last year, approached the apex court challenging the Bombay High Court order granting bail to Deshmukh in the graft case.
The high court had on December 12 granted bail to the 73-year-old NCP leader but said the order will be effective after 10 days, as the Central Bureau of Investigation sought time to challenge it in the apex court.
The high court had said except for dismissed police officer Sachin Waze’s statement, none of the others recorded by the CBI indicated money was extorted from bar owners in Mumbai at the behest of the politician.
In its plea filed in the top court, the probe agency has claimed the high court committed a “grave error” in granting bail to Deshmukh disregarding the serious objections raised by the probe agency both on the merits of the case as well as the effect his bail will have on the continuing investigation.
“The high court failed to appreciate that economic offences are required to be treated as a separate category of offences and bail in such offences is not required to be granted as a routine matter.
“Usually, socio-economic offences have deep-rooted conspiracies affecting the moral fiber of the society and causing irreparable harm, need to be considered seriously,” it said.
The CBI claimed the high court failed to appreciate that the charge sheet filed by the agency does not merely rely on the statement of Sachin Waze, an accused-turned-approver, but is also based on other material evidence which establishes the commission of a cognisable offence by Deshmukh.
“The High Court failed to appreciate that ascertaining veracity or otherwise of any statement of a witness is a matter of trial and the statement ought not to have been discarded at the stage of deciding on the grant of bail to the respondent,” it said.
The agency claimed, “The High Court failed to appreciate that the version of Sachin Waze, accused-turned-approver, is corroborated by WhatsApp chats exchanged between Param Bir Singh (PW (prosecution witness)-30) and Sanjay Patil (PW-24) to the effect that money collected from the bar and orchestra owners was at the instance of the respondent (Deshmukh).”
It said the high court committed an “error” in holding that the evidence in the form of testimony of Waze cannot be the ground to prolong Deshmukh’s custody.
The CBI said in its plea also contended that the high court also failed to appreciate that despite demitting the office of the home minister of Maharashtra, Deshmukh holds “considerable clout” in the state.
“There is every likelihood that he will command his authority by virtue of his high-level political associations and connections. Thus, grant of bail to the accused respondent would be detrimental to the morale of already named witnesses and would be an impediment for prospective witnesses to come forward,” it said.
As an interim relief, the CBI has sought an ex-parte stay on the high court order pending hearing of the plea filed in the apex court.
Deshmukh had earlier approached the high court after a special CBI court rejected his bail plea.
The veteran politician was in jail since November 2021, after his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case. He was later arrested by the CBI in the corruption case.
Former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh had in March 2021 alleged that Deshmukh, the then-home minister, had given a target to police officers to collect Rs 100 crore per month from restaurants and bars.
Former assistant police inspector Waze, arrested in the ‘Antilia’ bomb scare case of March 2021, too, had levelled similar allegations.
The high court had in April 2021 directed the CBI to carry out a preliminary inquiry. The CBI, based on this inquiry, registered an FIR against Deshmukh and others for alleged corruption and misuse of official power.