Excise 'scam': HC refuses to interfere with order rejecting accused's plea against charge framing

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New Delhi, Jun 7 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Friday refused to interfere with a trial court order rejecting Hyderabad-based businessman Arun Ramchandra Pillai's plea raising objections against the commencement of arguments on framing of charges in the excise policy "scam" case till the conclusion of the CBI investigation in the matter.

Pillai, an accused in the corruption case, had assailed the trial court order passed on March 22, contending that until the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) concludes its probe against the co-accused in the alleged conspiracy and all material is provided to him, any consideration on the aspect of framing of charges should be deferred.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said the trial court has already taken note of the petitioner's grievance and there was no infirmity in its order.

The high court further requested that the arguments on charge be heard immediately by the trial court.

"The learned trial court, in all fairness, has already mentioned in its order that though 16 accused persons have been chargesheeted and hearing arguments on charge will take considerable time, in case any further supplementary chargesheet is filed qua any other accused person, the hearing on arguments on charge may then be halted and copies of such chargesheet and relied-upon documents be supplied to all the accused persons, and the present accused will also get an opportunity to address his arguments with respect to the new material or evidence brought on record," the court said in its order.

"Therefore, this court is of the opinion that no interference at this stage is required by this court in the impugned order as the learned trial court has already taken note of the grievance of the present petitioner and the said order does not suffer from any infirmity," it opined.

The court said the rules of natural justice, a fair trial and criminal jurisprudence mandate that the accused is entitled to get any additional documents filed against the co-accused in the alleged conspiracy and therefore, as and when any fresh incriminating material is filed by way of a supplementary chargesheet, he would be "additionally heard".

It further observed that prima facie, the allegation against the petitioner was that he was part of the conspiracy involving co-accused K Kavitha and since both of them acted in "close conspiracy" with each other, it would be important for him to peruse the contents, allegations and material collected by the prosecution against the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader, before he addressed the arguments on charge.

Taking note of the CBI's stand that a supplementary chargesheet in relation to Kavitha would be filed on or before June 10, the court directed that on the first day of hearing itself, the investigating officer would ensure that hard copies as well as digitised copies of the same are provided to the accused persons.

Earlier in the day, the investigating agency filed a supplementary chargesheet against Kavitha before the trial court.

In its order, the high court also said the trial court will give "short dates" for a scrutiny of documents in the case and as many of the accused are in judicial custody, it would be in their interest that long dates or adjournments are not sought for the purpose of scrutiny of documents.

The court said there should not be any unnecessary delay in the scrutiny of the documents on the part of the accused also in order to ensure a speedy trial.

"The trial court is requested that the arguments on charge be heard immediately, keeping in view the timeline, and block dates be given to each accused for arguments on charge.... The learned trial court is requested to ensure that short dates are given for the above purpose," it said.

The petitioner -- represented in the court by lawyer Nitesh Rana -- had said in his plea that the trial court order dismissing his application in this regard was arbitrary, illegal and violative of his fundamental and legal rights.

The case pertains to the alleged corruption in the formulation and execution of the Delhi government's excise policy for 2021-22 that was later scrapped.

Pillai is on bail in the CBI case. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on March 6 in a related money-laundering case amid allegations that he represented the "south group" at meetings with other accused when the excise policy was being formulated and implemented, and is presently in judicial custody.

The excise policy was scrapped last year after the Delhi lieutenant governor ordered a CBI probe into alleged irregularities and corruption involving its formulation and execution. PTI ADS RC