Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who is facing the threat of arrest, failed twice on Wednesday to get immediate relief from the Supreme Court, which refused to grant him an urgent hearing on his plea seeking protection from arrest in the INX media scam cases.
Chidambaram, who was home minister and finance minister in the UPA government from 2004-2014, has sought a stay on the Delhi High Court’s Tuesday judgement dismissing his anticipatory bail plea and paving the way for his arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
His petition was first mentioned by senior advocate Kapil Sibal on Wednesday morning before a bench, comprising Justices N V Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, which sent it for being placed before the CJI for his consideration to accord it urgent hearing.
When the team of lawyers representing Chidambaram did not receive any information on the urgent listing, Sibal once again mentioned it before the same bench after it assembled post lunch.
Sibal, flanked by other senior advocates Vivek Tankha and Indira Jaising, told the bench that the investigating agencies have issued a look-out notice against Chidambaram as if he is going to “run away”.
The top court said the defects in the petition had been removed “just now” and it “cannot be listed for hearing today itself”.
“Without listing of the petition, we cannot hear the matter,” said the bench.
“Sorry Mr Sibal. We cannot hear the matter,” the bench said when he repeatedly asked for hearing the matter on Wednesday itself.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the plea of Chidambaram for hearing the matter on oral mentioning, saying that the papers are not with him.
Just as the bench assembled in the post-lunch session, Sibal said he was once again mentioning the matter for listing as he had not heard anything from the Registry about its listing.
The bench told him that there were some defects in the petition and the Registry had informed about it.
When Sibal said the defects have been cured, the bench called Registrar (judicial) Surya Pratap Singh and enquired about the defects.
The Registrar said the defects have been cured “just now”, and the petition will be placed before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi for allocating it before an appropriate bench.
At this, Sibal said that the matter cannot be listed today as the CJI is sitting in the Constitution bench and will not rise before 4 pm.
While the senior advocate was repeatedly insisting the matter be heard, the bench told him, “We have already directed the matter (is) to be placed before CJI”.
“Generally, the matters for listing are placed before the CJI in the evening, but in the morning we immediately refer it to CJI,” the bench said.
“It is not our job, but the Registry has to take the step,” the bench further said.
When Sibal reminded the bench that in the past protection from arrest has been granted to people on the basis of oral mentioning, the bench said, “we directed the Registry and it found that there were defects in the petition”.
At the end of the hearing, Sibal said that Chidambaram was ready to give an undertaking that he will not run away but the bench did not consider the submission and concluded the brief hearing.
In the morning, Mehta, appearing for the CBI and the ED, had told the bench that it was a case of money laundering of “monumental magnitude”.
One of the law officers assisting Mehta said, “We are ready and fully prepared to oppose any move by Chidambaram”.
Sibal told the apex court that Chidambaram’s plea was dismissed by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday.
He said Chidambaram was granted protection from arrest for more than a year in the INX case lodged by the CBI and ED.
Sibal said the high court had also refused to grant any protection from arrest to Chidambaram to enable him to approach the apex court.
“The matter should be heard. I (Chidamabaram) should not be arrested in the meanwhile,” Sibal said.
He also told the court that at 2 am on Wednesday, the probe agencies pasted a notice on Chidambaram’s house that he has to appear before them within two hours.
When Sibal said they have got their petition numbered from the Registry, the bench said, “You finish all formalities”.
Chidambaram suffered a major setback on Tuesday as the High Court dismissed his anticipatory bail in the INX Media scam describing him as the “kingpin”, and paved the way for the investigating agencies, CBI and ED, to arrest him.
“Simply because he is a Member of Parliament would not justify grant of pre-arrest bail to him” and his custodial interrogation was required for an effective investigation and “granting bail in cases like the instant one will send a wrong message to the society,” the High Court had said.
CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group, for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007, during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED in 2018 lodged the money laundering case in this regard.
Chidambaram’s role had come under the scanner of various investigating agencies in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal and the INX Media case involving Rs 305 crore.
It was during his tenure as finance minister in the UPA-I government that clearances from the FIPB were given to the two ventures.
Chidambaram’s petition had said that though no summons had ever been served on him by the ED in this case, he had an apprehension of arrest in view of the summons issued to him by the CBI.