The Delhi High Court on Friday stayed the trial court proceedings against DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal in a criminal case for allegedly abusing her official position to appoint people associated with the AAP to different posts in the women’s rights body.
While issuing notice and seeking a status report from the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Maliwal’s petition challenging the trial court order framing charges under the anti-corruption law, Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani observed the “essential ingredient” of receiving any pecuniary gain was not present in the matter.
“Issue notice. On a prima facie view of the matter, the court is persuaded to note that the essential ingredient of the offence under section 13(1)(d)(ii) of Prevention of Corruption Act, namely, obtaining any valuable item or pecuniary advantage, is evidently missing from the chargesheet and the order on charge, which requires closer consideration. In view of the above, further proceedings against the petitioner at stayed till next date of hearing before this court,” stated the court.
The court granted six weeks to the investigation agency to state its stand to the petition and listed the case for further hearing on July 26.
On December 8, 2022, the trial court had ordered framing of charges against Maliwal and three others under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act, including Section 13(1)(d) (criminal misconduct by a public servant).
The case was lodged by the Anti-Corruption Bureau on a complaint by former DCW chairperson and BJP MLA Barkha Shukla Singh.
Senior advocate Rebecca John represented Maliwal before the high court and assailed the trial court order on the ground that while there was no allegation of any pecuniary gain in the matter, all the appointments to Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), which is an autonomous body, were contractual in nature and duly approved the government’s finance department.
The appointments were made on an emergent basis to make DCW a robust organisation, she said, adding the criminal case against the petitioner is malafide and the order on charge based on mis-appreciation of DCW Act.
She also emphasised all appointees were qualified people, including several advocates, who were taken aboard in terms of the powers of the commission under the DCW Act, and the allegations of them having an association with AAP was based on hearsay.
John also dismissed the claim that people were appointed on the basis of having worked with Maliwal when she was associated with the Delhi chief minister’s office.
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During the hearing, the court asked the senior lawyer if “nepotism” was an offence against the Prevention of Corruption Act.
John said neither nepotism nor connection with any political party was by itself a criminal offence and the charges cannot be sustained in the present case in the absence of any pecuniary advantage in return for the appointments.
John said the audit report of the commission is placed before the Delhi legislative assembly and although the prosecution alleged violation of rules, regulations and office orders etc, no such material was presented before the trial court
According to the prosecution, the accused, in conspiracy with each other, abused their official position and obtained pecuniary advantages for AAP workers, who were appointed to different DCW posts without following the due process.
The appointments were made in contravention of procedures, rules, regulations, and without even advertising for the posts in violation of General Finance Rules (GFR) and other guidelines, and that money was disbursed to various such persons towards remuneration/salary/honorarium, it has said.
The prosecution has claimed that 90 appointments were made in the DCW between August 6, 2015 and August 1, 2016.
Out of these, 71 people were appointed on a contractual basis and 16 for ‘Dial 181’ distress helpline.
No record about the remaining three appointees could be found, it has said.
At the time of framing of charges, the trial court had said the perusal of minutes of the meetings held on various dates by the DCW, to which all four accused were signatories, were “enough to prima facie point to a strong suspicion that the appointments in question were made by the accused persons in agreement with each other”.