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Posted at: Jan 11, 2017, 5:31 PM; last updated: Jan 11, 2017, 6:12 PM (IST)

SC rejects probe into alleged Sahara-Birla payoffs to Modi

SC rejects probe into alleged Sahara-Birla payoffs to Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, January 11

In a major relief to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to entertain a plea for a probe into allegations of payoffs to him by the Sahara and Aditya Birla groups of companies ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when he was Gujarat Chief Minister.

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“No democracy can survive if investigations are readily set in motion against important constitutional functionaries without there being cogent material on record,” a Bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy ruled.
The apex court made the remark in a detailed order passed after hearing day-long arguments by senior counsel Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan for the PIL petitioner, NGO Common Cause, and Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi for the Centre.

“The process of law can be abused very easily to achieve ulterior goals” if such pleas were allowed, the Bench pointed out. The material provided by the petitioner in the form of random papers containing computer and diary entries, excel sheets and emails could not form the basis for registration of an FIR as these were inadmissible evidence in law.

Some of the material contained information about payoffs in crores of rupees paid to Modi and a large number of other leaders of various political parties by the two groups, but there was nothing to show that money was actually paid to any one of them, the bench held.

Among others who figured in these documents were BJP’s LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Ravi Shankar Prasad, Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP chief Mayawati, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, Congress leader Salman Khurshid and Sheila Dikshit and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah.

The Bhushans cited the Lalita Kumari case in which a 5-member Constitution Bench of the apex court had ruled that FIR was a must on all complaints pertaining to commission of cognisable offence without going into the evidentiary value.

The bench, however, accepted Rohatgi’s contention that the petitioner’s plea was similar to the Jain hawala case against BJP leader LK Advani and others in which the SC quashed the FIR, holding that diary entries and loose sheets could not be treated as evidence in the absence of any corroborative material.

The apex court also pointed out that the Income Tax Settlement Commission had given its conclusion that the documents seized by the CBI and I-T Department during raids on the Sahara group were not genuine.

A combined reading of the SC verdict in the hawala and Bhajan Lal cases and the I-T commission’s findings made it clear that it was not a fit case for directing investigation. Going by the material on record and the peculiar facts of the case, “We find no case is made to direct investigation against various political functionaries and officers. The applications are found to be meritless and dismissed,” the apex court ruled.

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