SC had specifically ordered that a Bench led by Chief Justice should hear the case
The Madras High Court on Wednesday began hearing writ petitions filed by Karti P. Chidambaram, son of former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and four of his “friends”.
The Supreme Court on January 31 ordered that only the Bench led by the High Court’s Chief Justice should hear and dispose of the petitions filed against the Look Out Circulars (LOCs) issued against all five of them by the Bureau of Immigration (BoI) in connection with the INX Media case.
Taking up the matter in compliance of the apex court directive, the Bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose accepted a request made by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) G. Rajagopalan that he may be given time till Monday to obtain instructions from the BoI. In the meantime, it directed the Registry to serve notice on K. Srinivasan, Special Public Prosecutor for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), too.
Though Senior Counsel Satish Parasaran, representing the petitioners, requested for early hearing of Mr. Chidambaram’s interim plea seeking permission to travel to the UK and France, the ASG convinced the court that a decision on granting such a permission could also be taken on February 12 since the petitioner had planned his travel to the European nations only between February 15 and 28 and once again between March 20 and 31.
The INX Media case relates to investigation being conducted by the CBI with respect to alleged kickbacks paid to Advantage Strategic Consulting, of which Mr. Chidambaram’s “friends” – C.B.N. Reddy, Ravi Visvanathan, Mohanan Rajesh and S. Bhaskararaman –were reportedly Directors, for scuttling a probe by the Department of Revenue into allegations of media group INX Media having received foreign investment to the tune of ₹305 crore without proper approval.
The BoI, under the Union Home Ministry, had issued LOCs against the writ petitioners on June 16 and July 18 last year to prevent them from flying out of the country. Passing interim orders on their batch of cases on August 10, a single judge of the High Court stayed the operation of the LOCs and permitted the petitioners to go abroad after informing the investigating officer, at least three days in advance, with regard to the date of their departure as well as arrival.
However, when the CBI took the interim order on appeal to the Supreme Court, the latter stayed the single judge’s order on August 18. Subsequently, a three judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud on January 31 this year ordered that the batch of writ petitions should be heard by the first Division Bench led by the Chief Justice of Madras High Court and disposed of within two months.
The apex court made it clear that the stay on the single judge’s order would remain in operation until the disposal of the cases by the first Division Bench. However, it added that “if any application for travelling abroad is filed before the High Court, the same shall be appositely addressed… All the issues are kept open and shall be addressed to by the High Court… Needless to emphasise, we have not expressed any opinion on any of the aspects of the case.”