New Delhi: The Supreme Court today warned warring factions in the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), involving top politicians from the BJP and the Congress, from making the top court an arena for their political duel.
"We cannot avoid political cases from coming to the Supreme Court. But for your political dangal, don't make Supreme Court an akhada. We have been witnessing this as a trend for past few months," an annoyed bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said.
The apex court made it clear to former Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Virbhadra Singh that it may remove him as a party to the case, in which his arch rival and also an ex-chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his son BJP MP Anurag Thakur are accused of alleged corrpution in the state cricket body.
Singh opposed the BJP government's plea for quashing of prosecution against Dhumal, Thakur and others, saying the due procedure in law has to be followed.
The apex court's remark came after Advocate General Ashok Sharma said the state cabinet had yesterday taken a decision that all politically motivated case including the HPCA case shall be withdrawn.
Senior advocate Anoop George Chaudhary, appearing for the Congress leader, strongly opposed the state government's decision and said legal procedure needed to be followed for withdrawal of cases.
"There is procedure laid down under section 321 of CrPC for withdrawal of cases. The application has to be moved by the public prosecutor before the magistrate. Then it is the discretion of the magistrate to allow the application or not," Chaudhary said.
The bench said it was aware of the procedure laid down under the law and asked Chaudhary why can't the Supreme Court quash the proceedings when the state government itself wants to withdraw the case.
"We ask you (Chaudhary), why can't we quash the proceedings? The state government is ready to withdraw the case. No prosecution sanction has been given against the alleged accused persons. There is a finding that no conspiracy was made out and one officer involved in the case has been promoted. The lease money also now stands accepted by the government," the bench said.
Senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for Dhumal and Thakur, said that respondent number-2 (Virbhadra Singh) is nobody in the case and has no locus at all.
"He is nobody in the case. He has no locus at all as he is not a prosecuting agency. He has been arrayed as party because of being a Chief Minister at the relevant time," Patwalia said.
The bench then warned that Singh's name will be dropped from the list of respondents, as it was the right of the petitioners to drop the names of the parties arrayed.
Chaudhary opposed the contention and said he should be allowed to file an impleadment application in the case and insisted that the case be heard on merits.
There are two ways out -- first, we quash the proceedings or secondly the trial court quashes it, the bench said and agreed to hear the state government's plea for withdrawal of the case on merit after the senior counsel for the Congress leader opposed it.
Patwalia said that nothing survives in the case and the apex court may quash the proceedings as now the state government has clarified its earlier position that all politically motivated case including the HPCA cases need to be withdrawan.
He said the Himachal Pradesh High Court had in 2013 ordered "status quo ante" in respect of the takeover of HPCA land and properties and "disapproved" the action of the then Virbhadra Singh government, saying it was "politically motivated".
The bench then observed "if the state government wants to withdraw the case, then we will finish it of" and posted the matter for further hearing on May 3, saying it will hear the issue on merit.
Interestingly, Additional Advocate General of the state, Abhinav Mukherjee, who had on March 26 appeared for accused Anurag Thakur and others in the case, was replaced by advocate Snehasish Mukherjee.
Earlier, the BJP government in the state had fielded Mukherjee in the apex court against the state's Advocate General to defend party MP Anurag Thakur and the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association as a "special case".
Dhumal, Thakur and HPCA had challenged the Himachal Pradesh High Court order of April 25, 2014, by which it had refused to quash the FIR and stay the criminal trial pending before special judge, Dharamshala, in a case registered under the provisions of cheating, criminal conspiracy and Prevention of Corruption Act.
Thakur, who is a BJP MP from Hamirpur and was then the HPCA president, had contended in apex court that the case was actually a civil dispute but then Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government had made it a criminal case for political reasons.
The FIR in the case was registered by the Dharamsala office of the Vigilance Bureau on August 1, 2013, months after the Congress government assumed power in December 2012.