delhi high court

Delhi High Court: In a petition filed by Mr. Ramesh Abhishek (petitioner), an ex-IAS officer who served as the Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce/DPIIT as also the Chairperson of the Forward Markets Commission challenging the impugned orders dated 02-02-2022 and 03-01-2023 passed by the Lokpal of India by which inquiries and investigation by the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) have been directed by Lokpal against the petitioner, in respect of possession of disproportionate assets. Prathiba M Singh, J., held that the Enforcement Directorate’s summons/notices are only for gathering information unless directed to the contrary by Lokpal and disposed of the petition without delving into the merits of the case.

The petitioner retired from service with effect from 31-07-2019. A complaint was received by Lokpal against the petitioner relating to corruption. The Lokpal directed the matter to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with all papers relating to this complaint and make inquiries regarding the valuation of the property at Greater Kailash, Part-II, acquired by the public servant and co-owners/owners of other floors along with an inquiry as to any conflict of interest in terms of remuneration received by the public servant (respondent) and/or his relatives.

As per a report submitted by ED to Lokpal, the Lokpal directed an open inquiry, and it was further directed that the said enquiry and investigation should be completed by the ED within two months.

Counsel for the petitioner challenges the jurisdiction of Lokpal on the following grounds

  • Under Section 14 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 (‘Lokpal Act, 2013’), an inquiry can relate to only the period during which the public servant is holding or serving capacity;

  • Under Section 20 of the Lokpal Act, 2013, preliminary enquiry can only be directed by the Central Vigilance Commission and not by the ED;

  • Under Rule 4 of the Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020 the identity of the complainant or the public servant has to be protected till the enquiry or investigation goes on.

  • The manner in which the Lokpal has directed the ED to enquire into the matter would also be in contrary to the scheme of the Lokpal Act, 2013 inasmuch as the Lokpal could not have sought enquiry by the ED as the Petitioner belongs to Group A class of officers and would be covered by the first proviso to Section 20(1) of the Lokpal Act, 2013.

  • Finally, the complaint is also not in the proper format as required under Section 2(e) and the accompanying format of the Lokpal Act, 2013.

The summons was sent by the ED to clients of the petitioner to whom the petitioner is currently providing professional services which is contrary to Rule 4 of the Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020. Counsel for Lokpal submitted that insofar as Rule 4 of the Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020 is concerned, the same is directory and it is left to the discretion of the Lokpal as to in what manner confidentiality is to be maintained.

The Court noted that the Lokpal is a body created by Parliament to investigate allegations of corruption and misconduct of public servants and for it to function effectively, Lokpal needs to be able to get inquiries and investigations done by specialized agencies. Thus, interference in the proceedings before Lokpal, while exercising writ jurisdiction, ought to be avoided, unless there is something palpably wrong or contrary to law.

The Court opined that the entire matter is under consideration by Lokpal and the challenge in the present petition is to stop the investigation by Lokpal which the Court is not inclined to do at this stage. The legal grounds which are being raised by the petitioner, relating to the jurisdiction of Lokpal or the way it is proceeding, can be brought to the attention of Lokpal by the Petitioner himself by appearing before Lokpal at the appropriate stage.

The Court noted that perusal of Section 20 reveals that the stage of the inquiry/investigation is currently preliminary in nature. The various steps in terms of Section 23 of the Lokpal act, 2013 i.e. initiating prosecution etc., are yet to be initiated by Lokpal. Prior to the said steps being undertaken by Lokpal, the petitioner shall be afforded a hearing and the contentions raised by the petitioner duly considered and a reasoned order shall be passed before proceeding further.

The Court concluded that as the current clients and professional employers of the Petitioner are concerned, the ED’s summons/notices are only for gathering of information unless directed to the contrary by Lokpal. Thus, all the grounds raised in this petition are left open to be considered and decided by Lokpal.

[Ramesh Abhishek v Lokpal of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 2862, decided on 10-05-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Ajit K. Singh, Ms. Priyanka Singh, Ms. Anukriti Tiwari, Mr. Shrish Kohli, Mr. Shubham Sahota, Mr. Debasish Mishra, Advocates for the Petitioner;

Mr. Apoorv Kurup, CGSC with Mr Ojaswa Pathak, Advocate for the R-1;

Mr. Zoheb Hossain, Counsel for Directorate of Enforcement with Mr. Vivek Gurnani, Mr. Kavish Garach, Advocates for R-2 along with Mr. Rajiv Jain, DD, ED.

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