After day-long courtroom drama, the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday agreed to hear the former finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday in a plea challenging the Delhi High Court (HC) judgment refusing him anticipatory bail in the INX Media case. The HC had yesterday denied anticipatory bail and protection from immediate arrest to P Chidambaram in a case related to alleged discrepancies in granting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearances to the INX Media group.
Chidambaram, who was denied any relief by the high court yesterday, approached the SC on Wednesday morning with a plea that while the case could be listed according to the procedure, he should be protected from immediate arrest in the interim. A three-judge SC bench led by Justice N V Ramana, however, refused to hear the mentioning and said that the file would be sent to Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, who would take call on whether to list the case or not.
“Upon oral mentioning made by Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner seeking urgent listing of the matter, the registry is directed to place the matter, subject to curing of defects, before Chief Justice of India for urgent hearing,” the three judge Bench, also comprising of Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, said in their order in the morning.
During the hearing on the case in the pre-lunch session, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for both Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED), opposed the listing of the case and said that it was a case of money laundering of "monumental magnitude".
Having failed to get an update on the listing of the case till lunch, Chidambaram’s legal team comprising senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid among others, once again approached the three-judge bench after the lunch. Sibal, flanked by Khurshid and senior advocates Vivek Tankha and Indira Jaising, insisted that the defects in the petition had been cured and the matter was ready to be heard. The three judge bench, however, refused to hear the matter.
On Sibal’s repeated insistence, Justice Ramana called the Registrar (judicial) to the courtroom, who said that the defects had been cured “just now”. The registrar further said that the petition would be placed before CJI Gogoi later in the day for appropriate administrative action.
Sibal’s assurance that Chidambaram was ready to give an undertaking that he would not run away had little impact on the outcome, as the bench made it clear that they could do nothing until the matter was listed. The matter was finally listed for Friday after the Registrar (Judicial) placed Chidambaram’s file before CJI Gogoi in the evening.
Chidambaram had to approach the three-judge bench headed by Justice Ramana as he is the third-most senior judge after Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Bobde. Both CJI Gogoi and Justice Bobde are a part of a five-judge Constitution bench which is hearing the Ayodhya land dispute case. According to the rules of SC, no cases can be mentioned for urgent hearing before any Constitution bench.
In his petition before the top court, Chidambaram said that HC observation that he was the "kingpin" in the INX Media case was completely baseless and that the FIR was "politically motivated and an act of vendetta".
“The judge has ignored the crucial fact that the petitioner (Chidambaram) simply approved the unanimous recommendation of the FIPB which was chaired by Secretary, Economic Affairs and consisted of five other Secretaries to the Government of India,” the senior Congress leader said in his petition.
Earlier in the day, the CBI had issued a lookout circular against the former finance minister to prevent him from leaving the country even as efforts to locate him had brought no results.
The Delhi HC had on Tuesday, while denying him anticipatory bail and immediate relief from arrest, called Chidambaram a “kingpin, that is, the key conspirator in this case”. Chidambaram and his son Karti are being probed by the CBI and the ED for alleged violations of FIPB norms during his tenure as finance minister.
While Karti has been accused by the probe agencies of receiving Rs 10 lakh as kickbacks in connection with clearance worth Rs 305 crore for INX Media, his father has been accused of clearing the proposal at the behest of his son. P Chidambaram was finance minister under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s first term when INX Media’s FIPB proposal was cleared.
The CBI had also alleged that Karti had also received money from INX Media to scuttle a tax probe. At that time, the media firm was owned by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who are currently in jail on charges of murdering Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora.
Apart from Chidambaram, other Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, said that the government was using CBI and ED to assassinate the character of the former finance minister.
“An extremely qualified and respected member of the Rajya Sabha, P Chidambaram ji has served our nation with loyalty for decades including as Finance Minister and Home Minister,” Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said in a tweet.