Excise Policy Scam: HC Judge Recuses From Hearing Plea by Businessman Vijay Nair Concerning Media Leak

Delhi High Court judge on Tuesday recused from hearing a plea by businessman Vijay Nair, an accused in the Delhi excise policy case, in which he has alleged that sensitive information was being leaked to the media by the investigating agencies.

After going through the list of respondents in the petition, Justice Prathiba M Singh said she cannot hear this matter.

The petition was filed by Nair, an accused in the cases related to alleged irregularities in the excise policy being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Nair moved the court in November 2022, claiming that sensitive information in relation to the case was being leaked to the media by the investigating agencies which was adversely impacting his right as an accused.

During the brief hearing, the counsel for ED submitted that as the criminal case is pending before the trial court, the parties rely on a host of material and evidence, and being an open court, it remains packed with media persons.

He said that on being chased by media persons, the ED officials and lawyers try to run away and this is all they could do.

The judge also said that when it is an open court which also holds hybrid hearings now and evidence is being read out, how can one stop the media in such a situation.

“Everybody is there even now. Even they are online here also, how do you stop in that case,” the high court said.

The ED’s counsel told the court that till now only one press release has been issued by it pertaining to the case.

On November 21, last year, the high court told certain media organisations to ensure that their broadcast in respect of the alleged Delhi excise policy scam case is in tune with the official press releases by the investigating agencies and comply with the applicable guidelines.

It had also issued notice to the media organisations named by the petitioner while noting that the broadcast content in question was not based on any press releases stated to have been issued by investigating agencies.

It had asked the news broadcasting authority to duly examine the broadcast and place a report as to whether they would be compliant with the applicable guidelines.

The News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) is an association of several leading news and current affairs broadcasters. NBDSA (News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority) administers the standards voluntarily drawn by NBDA for its members.

Nair, in custody in the money laundering case being probed by the ED in relation to the alleged excise scam, is a former CEO of an events management company and communication in-charge of the Aam Aadmi Party.

In November 2022, he was granted bail by the trial court in the case being probed by the CBI.

The ED had earlier told the court that none of the broadcasts in question is based on any information disclosed by it to the media.

The CBI had produced the press releases issued by it in relation to the case and the court had noted that and a comparison of those releases with the broadcasted content indicated that there was “simply no correlation” between the two.

Nair has argued before the high court that the case was at a critical stage and his rights as an accused are adversely affected when the details are released in the media.

He has contended that all the information was reaching the media through the investigating agencies and if a news organisation was carrying things based on “imagination”, that was dangerous.

The court had then said it would consider the official communications issued by the investigating agencies and see if the television channels reported on the issue based on the communication or out of their “figment of imagination”.

The prosecution has alleged that Nair, who is associated with Delhi’s ruling AAP, entered into a criminal conspiracy with others, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, the excise policy of the government of the national capital territory of Delhi (GNCTD) of 2021-2022 was framed.

The motive, according to the prosecution, was to provide alleged undue and illegal favours to liquor manufacturers and distributors at the cost of the government exchequer and the policy resulted in a huge revenue loss to the government.

The CBI had registered an FIR against public servants, excise department officers and others, including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act. Sisodia has denied any wrongdoing.

The accused public servants were instrumental in recommending and taking decisions about the excise policy without securing the approval of the competent authority, according to the FIR.

The intent of the accused was to extend undue favours to the liquor licencees for illegal pecuniary benefits, it said.

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