Friday, December 2, 2022

Supreme Court stays arrest of Anup Majhi in coal scam case till April 6

On the last hearing on March 10, the Apex Court had directed the petitioner Anup Majhi to file a rejoinder to the counter affidavit which has been filed on the behalf of CBI.

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The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the arrest of main accused Anup Majhi (spelt Majee in court documents) in the West Bengal Coal Scam Case and adjourned the hearing till April 6. He had challenged the Calcutta High Court order which had permitted CBI to continue its investigation into the alleged case of illegal mining and transportation of coal in West Bengal.

The matter was listed for next hearing by the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, M.R. Shah and Sanjiv Khanna. “The petitioner shall not be arrested until April 6. This order has been passed without going into the merit of the case. We clarify that this order will not restrain the investigation,” said the bench.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, Counsel for Anup Majhi, has submitted that the CBI cannot enter any state without the permission of the state to investigate in any matter. He subsequently raised the question that when the state government has withdrawn consent 2 years ago, then how can the CBI investigate?

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the CBI needs no consent of state to investigate in any matter related to central authority for which he cited the verdicts given by Apex Court itself in the case of Vineet Narayan.

He has further argued that in its investigation the CBI has found that this is not the matter of any one person, there is a systematic racket going on. It is a multi-state criminal offence, series having leading role of present accused.

He also submitted before the court that if the present accused got the relief even after this serious allegation then there would be queue of other cases before this court to get the relief in similar matters after that.

The court is considering the question whether the CBI can exercise its jurisdiction over Railway Areas without the consent of the concerned state government.

The petitioner through his plea had submitted that the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led state government, in November 2018, withdrew general consent to the agency for carrying out probes in West Bengal, despite that the High Court had permitted the CBI.

Previously, the CBI had filed its affidavit stating that the state government consent is not required to probe coal mining scam. The Affidavit filed by the CBI through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta declared that issue of lodging FIR by CBI notwithstanding that the state’s consent had become pointless once the Calcutta High Court refused to quash FIR and took cognizance of CBI probe. The CBI is under the mandate of CVC to continue and wind up the investigation as the entire case is based on the complaint by the Eastern Coalfields Limited, he said.

The Affidavit highlights that the coal bearing areas are spread across several states in India and it is essential that the conspiracy be thoroughly probed by the National Agency like CBI. The affidavit brings out Central Vigilance Act which states the powers and functions discharged by the CVC, the Commission is granted administrative autonomy, independence and insulation from external influences.

Further, it had submitted that the power under Section 8 of the CVC Act has been exercised, there can be no assertion as to the lack of consent from the relevant state.

The affidavit also submitted that doctrine of Public Trust would apply in the present case, the offence pertains to illegal mining, excavation and theft of coal. Furthermore, the object of the accused persons in the FIR is to siphon-off the depleting natural resources for their own gain running into hundreds of crores of rupees leading to a loss of revenue to the Central Government. It is pertinent to note that Coal is a natural resource and is of a significant national importance, which is held in trust by the Government and the Government PSUs for and on behalf of the people of India. The Coal Mine regulation in India has been specifically declared by the Parliament to be regulated by the Central Government which has been considered to be expedient in public trust in the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1973.

It was submitted that once the FIR has been lodged and the jurisdiction of the CBI qua “railway areas” is upheld, any action against the Petitioner would be incidental to the otherwise valid registration of the FIR and cannot be diminished in the manner sought to be done by the Petitioner.

On the Last hearing on March 10, the Apex Court had directed the petitioner Anup Majhi to file a rejoinder to the counter affidavit which has been filed on the behalf of Central Bureau of Investigation.

The Supreme Court had issued notices to the CBI and the other respondents observing that both the state of West Bengal and petitioner were aggrieved and notices were needed to be issued to CBI and the concerned parties to hear the matter at length. However, the bench denied granting any interim relief to Majhi.

Majhi, the director of a private company, was named an accused in the case of corruption and criminal breach of trust with regard to illegal mining and pilferage of coal from leasehold area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) in certain parts of West Bengal. The case was lodged in November 2020.

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The High Court of Calcutta had stayed the order of the Single Judge bench which had held that probe beyond the Railway areas (in the State of West Bengal), shall be conducted by the CBI only subject to specific consent being granted by appropriate authorities of the State of West Bengal.

Against the order of the High Court, Majhi filed an appeal before the Supreme Court contending that that the CBI lacked jurisdiction to lodge a First Information Report in the case after the withdrawal of general consent by the West Bengal government in 2018.


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