Srinagar: Pulling up Crime Branch Kashmir for its “slackness and lackluster approach”, the J&K High Court on Friday ordered it to “tighten the noose” around 17 absconders in the multi-crore cash-for-paper scam involving former chairman of Board of Professional Entrance Examination Mushtaq Ahmad Peer.
“We are left with the impression that there is some slackness on the part of the investigation agency in tightening the noose around those who are absconding,” a division bench of Chief Justice M M Kumar and Justice Hasnain Massodi observed while a hearing a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation.
On March 20, the bench had said that no steps were taken by the Crime Branch to apprehend the absconding accused against whom chargesheet stands filed before the Anti-Corruption Judge Kashmir.
“The situation as on date as revealed in the affidavit and status report filed on May 15 by the Investigating Officer does not show any improvement. In fact, it has been stated in unequivocal terms that 17 persons continue to be fugitive and are absconding. The excuse for slow motion given in affidavit is that election has intervened which has slowed the pace of investigation,” the bench observed.
Among the fugitives include government employees working in Health, Education, Forest and Power Development Department.
“The Crime Branch has been issuing notices to various departments, where some of the wanting persons are serving, as if they are dealing with an ordinary accused where notice is required to be served under Section 160 of CrPC e.g. which deals with summoning a witness vital to the prosecution case. (It) shows the lackluster approach adopted by the (Crime Branch),” the court said.
“In respect of the report filed by Forest, Education and PDD, the situation is even worse,” the court observed.
Referring to the status filed Education Department, the bench observed that CEO Anantnag has been appointed as inquiry officer and a chargesheet is stated to have been filed.
“When we examined the documents, it reveals that the chargesheet dated May 20 in fact is only a notice directing the accused to resume duties within seven days. An extraordinary procedure has been followed, and in absence of the chargesheet, an inquiry officer has been appointed,” the bench said.
“It is for the authorities to realize that the Civil Service Rules dealing with criminal appeals have to be followed and steps taken accordingly. So surely these are not the procedural steps contemplated by the rules.”
The situation, the bench observed, is no better in the case of Health Department. “We don’t want to go into detail and direct department concerned to follow the rules and act accordingly.”
Likewise in the Forest Department, court said two accused have been placed under suspension and further necessary action in accordance with the law has to be imitated.
“(It) shows that the matter is not taken as seriously as it is required,” the bench said, underling that in the criminal procedure rules as well as in the various disciplinary rules, provisions have been made to deal with situation created by absconding accused.
“If those rules are not to be applied in cases like this, we fail to understand where such rules will be made applicable.”
Advocate B A Bashir, the amicus curie in the case, pointed out that the accused employees have been working till recently and might even been drawing the salaries.
“If that be so, it amounts to facilitating the accused in absconding rather than expediting arrest of such persons. So they be dealt with in accordance with the law,” the bench said.
The importance of arresting accused, the bench said, cannot be over emphasized particularly where vital information is expected to be in possession and knowledge of such persons.
“At number of times, we have seen a very good prosecution cases are lost on account of tardy investigation and failure to apprehend the accused at the right time. Therefore, we direct that all the codal provisions should be pressed into service to arrest these 17 absconders by tightening the noose so that the society at large may feel that justice is been done to those who are law abiding.”
The bench also observed that in admission matters, students of impressionist age are struggling and working hard to enter prestigious educational institution for their MBBS or engineering.
“Parental and societal pressures work on their psychology and as has been reported in the press, they resort to finish their lives, and this must be realized by all those who are associated with the investigation of the case in ensuring that accused do not go scot-free.”
In this background, the bench passed a number of directions, asking the Investigating Officer to take all necessary steps by availing the procedure which deals with attaching property of absconding accused, their bank account and their salary in order to ensure that they are subjected to criminal law of the state.
“There evil designs shall be defeated by equal galvanized steps to be taken by the investigation agency.”
In another direction, the bench asked the departments like Forest, Heath, Educational and PDD to ensure that disciplinary action in accordance with law is initiated against them as per the provision of law.
“The status reports by various departments where the absconders are serving shall be filed through DDOs whether such officers are drawing salary from March 2014 till date so as to reveal whether they were present in departments or not.”
The court also expressed “hope and trust” that the investigation pertaining to CET of 2009, 2010, and 2011 is carried “religiously and strictly in accordance with the provisions of law” by the Crime Branch and asked it to file status report.
The court also said the Anti-Corruption Court may take the matter in respect of challan filed before it “serious” and should give desired priority by expediting the trial without granting long adjournments.
“The court shall submit fortnightly report to Registrar Judicial,” the bench said.
It also asked BSNL and other companies to cooperate with investigation agency and posted the matter for further consideration on July 1.
Advocate General M I Qadri along with AAG M A Chachoo represented the state while senior advocate B A Bashir, the amicus curie, assisted the court.