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SC stays directions of Karnataka HC judge while hearing bail plea in bribery case

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Supreme Court ADGP Seemanth Kumar Singh Justice H P Sandesh IAS officer J Manjunath
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NEW DELHI:

In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed directions, including seeking closure reports filed by the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau and the service records of officers including the ADGP, of the Karnataka High Court’s Justice H P Sandesh while taking up a bail plea in a bribery case.

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A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli said the high court judge, hearing the bail petition of an accused, made some ”irrelevant observations” beyond the scope of the bail application. The top court, however, refused to expunge the remarks and transfer the case to some other bench in the high court, saying it has to “balance the sides”.

”The proceedings before the Karnataka High Court, which are not linked with the proceedings with the accused, are stayed. We request the high court to consider the bail application of the accused. List it after three weeks,” the bench said.

Besides adverse oral observations, the HC judge had issued directions ranging from seeking reports on prosecution/closure of cases, probed by the ACB, since 2016 and summoning confidential service records of the Additional Director General of Police while considering the regular bail application of an accused, the apex court was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government.

The top court was hearing as many as three petitions filed by the Karnataka government, Seemanth Kumar Singh, ADGP of Anti-Corruption Bureau, and jailed officer J Manjunath against the adverse remarks of Justice Sandesh of the high court. The HC judge had orally called the ACB a ”collection center” and Singh a ”tainted officer”.

Justice Sandesh had also claimed to have received a threat of transfer in his order after his adverse remarks and had widened the scope of the hearing while considering the bail plea of one Mahesh in the case.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the ACB ADGP, sought expunction of adverse remarks. Another senior lawyer S Nagamuthu, appearing for jailed officer J Manjunath, urged that the matter be assigned to some other bench.

”Sorry, we have to balance the sides. we cannot be seen to be favoring one side”, the CJI said while ordering notices on the pleas.

Recently, Manjunath, the then Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner who has been arrested in the bribery case, has moved the top court alleging media trial after Justice Sandesh made ”unwarranted remarks” while hearing the bail plea of another accused.

The state government and the ACB chief had earlier filed separate petitions against the high court’s order and observations.

On July 12, the top court had requested Justice Sandesh to defer the hearing in the matter for three days.

Additional Director General of Police Singh, in his separate plea, had sought expunction of adverse remarks of Justice Sandesh and a stay on the proceedings in the high court.

The observations and directions ranging from seeking reports on prosecution/closure of cases, probed by the ACB, since 2016 and summoning confidential service records of the ADGP have been passed while considering a regular bail application of an accused, the apex court was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state ACB.

It had all begun with the ADGP being asked to be personally present before Justice Sandesh on May 30 during the hearing of the bail petition of Deputy Tehsildar Mahesh P S, who was working in the Urban Deputy Commissioner’s (DC’s) office when an ACB raid had led to the bribery case against him.

The high court had questioned why then DC Manjunath was not made an accused in the case, following which the court was promised he would be made a party in the case.

On June 29, during the next hearing of the case, Justice Sandesh, on noticing the DC was not yet a party, made the observations against ACB and the ADGP.

On July 4, Singh was again present in the court, during which the judge stated that he was threatened with the transfer after his remark against the ACB that it had become a ”collection center”, and that he was unfazed by such threats. PTI

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