Monday, April 11, 2011

Govt has to give in again, SC decides 2G prosecutor

New Delhi: The line of tension between the judiciary and the executive became more taut on Monday when the Supreme Court brushed aside the government’s objection to senior advocate U U Lalit and appointed him the special public prosecutor in the 2G scam case in which former telecom minister A Raja is the key accused.
Directing Lalit’s appointment as the special PP, a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly disagreed with the Centre’s stand that under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) the choice of PP rests exclusively with the government. It said there was public interest involved in the appointment of the public prosecutor, and his independence from any governmental control was the hallmark of the important post. The court also precluded other judicial forums, including the high courts, from staying trial in the irregular allotment of spectrum licences in 2008 during Raja’s tenure as telecom minister and said the “trial must proceed on a day-to-day basis”.
“Any objection about appointment of special PP or his assistant advocates or any prayer for staying or impeding the progress in the trial can be made only before this court,” the bench said.
It did not question the legality of the Centre’s stand that the choice of PP was its exclusive prerogative under the PMLA. However, it pointed out that it was at the government’s invitation that the apex court was monitoring the probe by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate into the 2G scam, and exercised its inherent jurisdiction to direct setting up a separate special court. The judicial assertion rankled with the government which has just had to give into the demand of activists on the Lokpal Bill. “It is a clear case of judicial overreach,” said a senior government functionary.
The episode is also yet another evidence of the space the government has had to cede since it failed to nip the 2G spectrum scam. The handicap also creates uncertainty about the form of a government response, if any, to the “overreach”.
The bench strongly justified choosing Lalit, saying he had the experience and expertise required for conducting the prosecution in the sensitive 2G scam case. “We, therefore, order that U U Lalit shall be appointed special public prosecutor by the government to conduct the prosecution in this case, on behalf of the CBI and the ED.”
Minutes after the order, Lalit told TOI: “The Supreme Court has reposed faith in me and I will discharge it to the best of my ability.” Asked whether 80,000 pages of document cited as evidence by the CBI in its chargesheet made it a very daunting job, Lalit added: “I will do my best to fairly prove the prosecution side in the court.” How long will the trial take? “It could be anyone’s guess. But, I will not hazard a guess. I will do my best as long as the trial goes,” Lalit said.

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