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SC denies probe into Birla-Sahara payoffs to Modi

NEW DELHI

In a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea to probe the alleged payoffs by the Birla-Sahara groups to him when he was the Gujarat chief minister.

Besides Modi, the documents relied upon by the petitioner NGO Common Cause has named a large number of politicians, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, federal Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Delhi (former), Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, Salman Khursheed, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and others.

Rejecting the plea, the bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Amitava Roy said that evidence produced for seeking the registration of first information report (FIR) against the prime minister and other political functionaries, including government officials was not admissible.

If we were to order investigation on the basis of material with no evidentiary value, the court said that it would be difficult for constitutional functionaries to function and it would not be safe for the democracy.

“The shape in which these documents have been collected and filed, we are of the opinion that it would not be safe and proper to order investigation,” the court said in its order while weighing the evidence placed before it in the context of earlier judgements of the top court, including that of the constitution bench.

Both Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had flashed what they said were Income Tax department documents to claim that Modi got huge sums of money as bribes when he presided over Gujarat.

Opposing the plea by the NGO for court-monitored SIT probe, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said that evidence placed before the court was palpably “false and reckless”.

Rohatgi said that what was being relied upon was computer excel sheets and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory has found it to be tampered with.

Referring to the entries in the computer print out, attorney-general said: “An employee can say anything in his personal computer, but it can’t be attributed to me for assessment of taxes.”

Rubbishing the evidence being relied upon by Common Cause, the attorney-general said: “Anybody can say anything about anybody” pointing out that similar allegations could be levelled against the president of the country, the vice-president, the prime minister, judges, politicians and professors.

Arguing in support of the plea for the registration of the FIR, counsel Prashant Bhushan contended that Birla executives have admitted to receiving payments from Hawala operators which in turn were disbursed to the politicians and officials on the basis of the instructions by the group president. He referred to the emails by the Aditya Birla group executives pointing to managing the officials of the directorate of revenue intelligence in narrowing down the scope of the probe. Rs250 million were found from the office of Birla Group.

Agencies