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The Supreme Court today said pleas challenging any interim order passed by a special court during the pendency of trial in coal block allocation scam cases will be entertained only by it.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said that these cases were concerned with "large scale corruption" that had polluted the allocation of coal blocks and they form a "clear and distinct class" that need to be treated in a manner different from the usual cases dealt by the courts.
"The magnitude of the illegalities is such that it appears that even the integrity of the (then) Director of the CBI (Ranjit Sinha) was prima facie compromised, and this court had to intervene and direct investigations into the conduct of the director of the
CBI," the bench, also comprising justices Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri, said.
It refused to "re-visit" the July 25, 2014 order passed by the apex court which had made it clear that any prayer for stay or impeding the progress in the investigation or trial can be made only before the apex court and no other court shall entertain it.
The apex court observed that its order, barring the Delhi High Court from entertaining challenge to special court's interim order passed during pendency of trial, was "not violative" of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution.
"The order passed by this court does not amount to legislating in the classical mould but according special treatment to a class of cases for good and clear reason and in larger public interest as well as in the interest of the accused," it noted in its 53-page judgement.
The bench rejected the contention of petitioners, also including former Coal Secretary H C Gupta and industrialist and Congress leader Naveen Jindal, that due to the July 25 order, their statutory right has been restricted saying "remedies available to the appellants continue to be available to them except that the forum has been shifted from the high court to this court in larger public interest".
It also noted that these cases were are not ordinary but fall under a special category which requires special attention given the magnitude of illegalities allegedly committed, including some with criminal intent.
"It is in this view of the matter that this court had no option but to hand over the investigations to the CBI and to monitor the investigations so that they reach their logical conclusion, without any interference from any quarter.
"That being so, it can hardly be said with any degree of seriousness that the procedure adopted by this court, in the facts and circumstances of the case, violate any right to the life and liberty of any of the appellants or any other persons allegedly involved in the criminality associated with the allocation of coal blocks," it said.
The bench observed that the Supreme Court is obliged to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens in accordance with the Constitution, but it was equally true that while doing so, public interest cannot be "flung out of the window".
"Very often, public interest is lost sight of while dealing with an accused person and the rights of an accused person are given far greater importance than societal interests and more often than not greater importance than the rights of individual victims," it said.
"This is a delicate balance to be struck and we do not see any curtailment of any fundamental right of the appellants or any violation of any substantive law if there is a change in the forum in the exercise of the rights of the appellants given the nature of the allegations against them and the wide impact on society," the bench said.
The court also said that this "out of the ordinary step" was taken given the serious nature of allegations in these cases.
The apex court's order came on a batch of pleas which have placed the issue of whether the high court can entertain the challenge to the order passed by special court during pendency of trial in coal cases.