The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to entertain a plea filed by 14 parties, led by the Congress, alleging arbitrary use of central probe agencies against opposition leaders and seeking guidelines for the future. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that political leaders cannot be put on a higher pedestal and cannot be given immunity. Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala were also part of the bench.
During the hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “Let me point out some interesting statistics from 2013-14 to 2021-22. There is a 600 per cent increase in CBI and ED cases." To this, the CJI said, “But, Mr Singhvi in India, the conviction rate is generally dismal."
Responding to the CJI, Singhvi said, “For ED, 121 political leaders have been probed, of which 95 per cent are from the opposition. For the CBI, it is starker. Out of 124 investigations, over 95 per cent were from opposition."
CJI Chandrachud said, “See, this is not a petition by someone who is aggrieved, it is a petition by political parties…Just because of some figures and statistics, can we say that the investigation should be stopped? Can there be immunity? Ultimately a political leader is basically a citizen. As citizens, we are all amenable to the same law."
To this, Singhvi said, “I am not here to interfere in ongoing investigation. If the stats show a harassing effect, I am only seeking guidelines."
The CJI further said, “You say for lesser offences punishable less than seven years, there should be no arrest, unless the triple test is not satisfied. I will give you a simple example. Even though this focuses on political leaders, they don’t enjoy any immunity. Take cases which don’t involve attack on bodily integrity. There are financial scams of crores. Can we say that because this does not involve bodily integrity don’t arrest?"
The apex court stated that political leaders too are citizens of India. “Political leaders stand absolutely on the same standing as the citizens of the country. They don’t claim higher identity. How can there be a different set of procedure for them? The moment you say democracy, it is essentially a plea for politicians," the CJI added.
The bench also asked Singhvi to come before the court in individual cases. The CJI said, “When you say that space for opposition has shrunk, the remedy is in that space, the political space and not the court. We are not entertaining this. If you want, you can come back in individual cases where someone has been targeted."
Continuing the arguments, Singhvi said, “Mass arrests is a threat to democracy. It is a sign of authoritarianism. Process becomes the punishment."
The top court said, “When you (political parties) argue that there is a chilling effect on opposition because of CBI/ED cases against opposition political leaders, the answer lies in the political space and not in courts."
The plea alleged there is an alarming rise in the use of coercive criminal processes against opposition political leaders and other citizens exercising their fundamental right to dissent.
“Investigating agencies such as CBI and ED are being increasingly deployed in a selective and targeted manner with a view to completely crush political dissent and upend the fundamental premises of a representative democracy," a statement issued on behalf of a petitioner alleged.
The plea filed through lawyer Shadan Farasat cited some statistics and said they demonstrated a “shocking and unconstitutional state of affairs".
Besides the Congress, the parties that were part of the joint move were the DMK, RJD, BRS, Trinamool Congress, AAP, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), JMM, JD(U), CPI(M), CPI, Samajwadi Party and the J&K National Conference.