[Delhi Excise Policy] Delhi High Court directs IO to provide prompt hard and digitized copies of Supplementary Charge Sheet to accused upon filing

Keeping in view the rules of natural justice, fair trial and criminal jurisprudence, the accused will be entitled to supply of those additional documents which may be filed against the co-accused with whom he has been alleged to have conspired with and as stated above, to additionally address arguments on charge on the basis of such additional material directly involving his role in the conspiracy.

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code seeking setting aside of the impugned order dated 22.03.2024 passed by the Special Judge (PC Act), CBI-09, Rouse Avenue District Court, New Delhi (Trial Court) in case titled as ‘CBI vs. Kuldeep Singh’ and consider whether the Trial court should be directed to defer hearing arguments on charge till the investigation of K. Kavitha is complete and the chargesheet against her is filled and a copy is provided to the petitioner? Swarana Kanta Sharma, J., ordered that once the CBI files the said supplementary chargesheet before the Trial Court, on the first day of hearing itself, the I.O. will ensure that hard copies of the said chargesheet as well as the digitized copies of the same are provided to the accused persons before the learned Trial Court, to save time of pre-trial proceedings.

The Court further stated “The I.O. shall also ensure that the copies which are given to the accused persons are legible and paginated. The accused persons may go through the said copies and inform the I.O. about any deficiency in the hard copies and digitized copies within two days. There should not be any unnecessary delay in scrutiny of the documents, by the accused persons also, to ensure speedy trial. Many of the accused persons are in judicial custody and therefore, it will be in their interest also that long dates or adjournments are not asked for, for the purpose of scrutiny of documents.”

The case stems from FIR registered on 17-08-2022, by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) alleging that during the formulation of Delhi’s Excise Policy for 2021-22, the accused persons engaged in a criminal conspiracy to create exploitable loopholes in the policy, resulting in substantial kickbacks totaling Rs. 90-100 crores being paid to public servants involved. These kickbacks were allegedly returned to the payers through profit margins of wholesale distributors and credit notes to retail zone licensees linked to the South Indian liquor lobby.

Following the investigation, the CBI filed a charge sheet on 25-11-2022, against seven accused, including the petitioner (accused no. 5), for offenses under Sections 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), and Sections 7, 7-A, and 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act). The Trial Court took cognizance of these charges on 15-12-2022 and filed supplementary charge sheets bringing more accused into the case.

The petitioner filed an application on 26-02-2024, objecting to the commencement of arguments on charge, which the Trial Court dismissed on 22-03-2024. Aggrieved, the petitioner approached the High Court wherein the petitioner’s counsel argues that despite a Supreme Court directive in “Manish Sisodia v. CBI, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1393 to complete the trial within 6-8 months, the trial has not yet commenced. The counsel asserted that the continued investigation over 15 months violates the petitioner’s fundamental and legal rights, and argued that the prosecution should complete its investigation before arguments on charge commence, to avoid prejudice against the petitioner.

The petitioner’s counsel contends that new statements or documents collected during the ongoing investigation could be used detrimentally against the petitioner. They argue that since the investigation might result in additional accused persons, the petitioner should be allowed access to all relevant documents, particularly those related to co-accused K. Kavitha, who is alleged to have conspired with the petitioner. The counsel emphasizes the need to defer arguments on charge until the investigation is complete and all documents are supplied to the petitioner under Section 207 CrPC.

The Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) for the CBI opposes the petition, arguing that it is a delay tactic contradicting the Supreme Court’s directive. The SPP asserts that the investigation against the 16 charge-sheeted accused is complete, and sufficient material exists for framing charges. Further investigation pertains only to other suspects. The SPP also assured that a supplementary charge sheet regarding K. Kavitha will be filed by 10-06-2024, due to the complexity and ongoing nature of the investigation.

The High Court identifies the central issue as whether the Trial Court should defer hearing arguments on charge until the investigation concerning K. Kavitha is complete and the petitioner is provided with the related charge sheet. The Court notes that framing a charge is a critical stage in a criminal trial, providing the accused with full notice of the allegations and enabling them to prepare their defense. The Court acknowledges the petitioner’s argument that further investigation could uncover material affecting their case, necessitating access to such material for a fair defense.

The Court also noted that the allegations against the petitioner are intertwined with those against K. Kavitha, indicating that the material collected against her could impact the petitioner’s defense. The Court refers to Section 207 CrPC., which mandates supplying necessary documents to the accused to ensure a fair trial. Reviewing the impugned order, the Court finds that the Trial Court had already addressed this concern, indicating that if new material arises from the supplementary charge sheet, the hearing on arguments on charge would be halted, and the accused would be allowed to scrutinize and argue on the new material.

Given the SPP’s assurance that the supplementary charge sheet will be filed by 10-06-2024, and the Trial Court’s consideration of the petitioner’s rights, the Court sees no reason to interfere with the impugned order. The Court orders that once the supplementary charge sheet is filed, the Investigating Officer must provide both hard and digitized copies to the accused promptly. The Trial Court is instructed to give short dates for document scrutiny and to expedite the hearing of arguments on charge, ensuring a speedy trial.

[Arun Ramchandran Pillai v. CBI, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 4343, decided on 07-06-2024]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Nitesh Rana, Mr. Anuj Tiwari, Mr. Kaushal Kait, Mr. Deepak Nagar, Mr. Nikhil Kohli, Ms. Soumya Kumar & Ms. Monika, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. D.P. Singh, SPP with Mr.Manu Mishra, Ms. Shreya Dutt, Mr. Imaan Khera, Advocates for CBI with ASP Rajiv Kumar.

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