If the Justice Chandrachud-led bench finds anything incriminating in the case, it may start a political storm.

 

NEW DELHI: When the next Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, takes oath on 9 November, among the important cases of political ramifications that he will be hearing within the first week of his tenure would be related to the multi-crore “Nagrik Apurti Nigam” (NAN) or the Public Distribution System (PDS) scam of Chhattisgarh that emerged in February 2015. NAN is the agency in charge of the distribution and procurement of food grains. Rice millers and agents allegedly paid bribes to senior Raipur-based IAS officials to allow substandard rice to be distributed through the state’s PDS to the marginalized section of the society.
In a situation where the Justice Chandrachud-led bench finds anything incriminating in the case as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has been alleging, it is likely to start a political storm in the state that will also impact the highest political office in Raipur and create a political crisis for the newly elected Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge.
On Thursday, the bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices Ajay Rastogi and S. Ravindra Bhatt, refused to further hear the plea of ED on account of paucity of time while adjourning the matter to the week commencing 14 November. “Though we heard advocates appearing for the parties at some length, considering the facts and circumstances on record and particularly the fact that the submissions would not be over in one session, the matter is released from being part heard,” the order said.
This development comes after Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, representing the ED, told the court that a Bilaspur High Court judge had met Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. The same has been denied by Raipur-based Chief Minister’s Office sources and Kapil Sibal who is representing Chhattisgarh in the Supreme Court.
Mehta, alleging collusion between the accused in the NAN scam and “highly placed persons”, stated that 72 witnesses in the case of the total 170 have turned hostile even as he placed a purported WhatsApp chat between the accused bureaucrats and members of the state investigating agencies.
He also placed documents in a sealed envelope before the court which he claimed “would shake the conscience of the bench” while proving that a free and fair trial in the scam till it was happening in Chhattisgarh was not possible. “The collusion between the accused and authorities has diluted the case of the prosecution. The prime accused was involved in intimidating the officers involved in the proceedings. The draft report by SIT was vetted by the prime accused first. The son of the prime accused was in touch with the Chief of the Economic Offences Wing and two members of the SIT. The accused has received concessions from the present state government. The SIT has made at least 7 unsuccessful attempts to stall the proceedings,” Mehta stated.
In an earlier hearing on 19 September, Mehta had stated, “Please go through the material. If this comes out in the public domain, it might shake people’s faith in the system because of the individuals involved… A sitting judge of the High Court was in touch with constitutional authorities who were helping the accused… Would Your Lordships like to make it public,”?
According to ED sources, the members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), judicial officers, and “highly placed sources” were working together to weaken the case against the accused which includes two IAS officers Anil Tuteja and Alok Shukla.
The case in the NAN scam was registered when the Raman Singh-led BJP government was in power which started a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Economic Offences Wing (EOW). IAS officers Shukla of the 1986 IAS batch and Tuteja (who is of state cadre and got IAS cadre in 2012) were among those charged in the alleged scam. While Shukla was then the NAN chairman, Tuteja was its managing director.
When Congress came to power in December 2018, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel announced the formation of an SIT to probe the scam. Shukla and Tuteja, who were absconding, applied for anticipatory bail, which they got after which they were appointed in the government. While Shukla, who retired in May 2020, was appointed as Principal Secretary in June, Tuteja is joint secretary in the commerce and industries department.
In 2019, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) lodged an Enforcement Case Information Report- ECIR/RPSZO/01/2019-under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which was based on the FIR and charge sheet filed by the Chhattisgarh police’s economic offenses wing (EOW) and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the scam. Besides seeking transfer of the case outside Chhattisgarh, the ED is demanding the cancellation of anticipatory bail granted to Shukla and Tuteja in August 2020 by the Bilaspur High Court.
Justice Arvind Singh Chandel of Bilaspur High Court while granting anticipatory bail to the two accused had stated, “The ECIR case was registered against them in the year 2019. Notice was issued to them for the first time in the ECIR case in March 2020. The delay in the issuance of the notice has not been explained. The ECIR case has been registered against them only based on statements of Girish Sharma and Jeetram Yadav. The pen drive has also been seized from Girish Sharma. Statements of both the applicants have also been recorded and the Directorate of Enforcement has already interrogated the Applicants for about 3 days. Why their custodial interrogation is required has also not been duly explained.” Both Girish Sharma and Jeetram Yadav are close associates of the two IAS officers.