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SC Stays HC Order Directing CBI Probe Against Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Rawat Over Corruption Charges

The Uttarakhand High Court had directed the CBI to investigate the corruption allegations raised by Journalist Umesh Kumar Sharma against CM Rawat. The HC also took critical note that the state had sought to add sedition as a charge against Sharma, emphasising that 'dissent can never be sedition'.

The Supreme Court has stayed the Uttarakhand High Court's order directing CBI probe into corruption allegations against Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat by journalist Umesh Kumar Sharma. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy & MR Shah observed that the issue required consideration while issuing notice and sought a response from the Respondents, reported LiveLaw. Rawat had moved to the top court challenging the HC judgement.

Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that the HC came to a decision without hearing the other side of the story. "They have not heard him, look at the consequences! Immediately, what one would anticipate? This was not something that the HC should do and destabilise the government," the media quoted him as saying.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for Sharma. He told the court that the matter was a serious one and there were WhatsApp messages that detailed the CM's linkage to the transfer of money. The bench then said that HC exercised Suo Moto powers and the other parties were not even a part of the order that was passed against them.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Uttarakhand HC directed the CBI to investigate the allegations raised by Sharma against CM Rawat. The Court also allowed the plea filed by Sharma to quash an FIR filed against him in July 2020 for publishing a video where he levelled charges of corruption against the CM, reported The Wire.

In the video uploaded on Facebook, Sharma had alleged that Rawat's had gotten money transferred to the accounts of his relatives in the year 2016, during his tenure as Bharatiya Janata Party's Jharkhand in-charge to support the appointment of a person as head of the Gau Seva Ayog.

A man named Amratesh Singh Chauhan from Jharkhand had deposited money after demonetisation into the bank account of Harendra Singh Rawat, a former professor and his wife Savita Rawat, for the personal benefit of the CM, and they finalised the deal for ₹25 lakh. Sharma also gave the bank account details.

Instead of probing into the allegations raised by Sharma, the state police lodged an FIR with Section 124-A IPC (sedition) against him on the complaint of Harendra, whose name cropped up in the video.

Harendra stated that the allegations raised were false and he was not related to Trivendra Singh Rawat and said that the journalist had fabricated the documents he talked about in the video. The FIR also named two other news organisations - Parvatjan owned by Prasad Semwal and CrimeStory owned by Rajesh Sharma.

Following, Sharma and Semwal filed petitions in the High Court for the quashing of the FIR against them. Rejecting the FIR, the Court said the actions leading to the registration of the FIR were 'mala fide in nature', and the allegations raised do not make out any prima facie case against the petitioners.

Justice Ravindra Maithani, in his order, directed the withdraw of the FIR and ordered the CBI to probe the allegations against the minister and other people involved. For the same, CBI SP is appointed.

"This court can, within the scope of jurisdiction under Article 226, order for an investigation into allegations levelled by the petitioner in para 8 of the petition. This Court is of the view that considering the nature of allegations levelled against Trivendra Singh Rawat, Chief Minister of the State, it would be appropriate to unfold the truth," the media quoted the state's order. The Court said that it would be in the interest of the state to clear the doubts.

In the course of the judgment, the HC also took critical note that the state had sought to add sedition as a charge against Sharma.

"Adding Section 124-A IPC in the instant case manifests that it has been an attempt of the State, to muzzle the voice of criticism, to muffle complaint/dissent. It can never be allowed. The law does not permit it. In the instant case, whatever the allegations against the petitioner, they do not remotely connect with Section 124-A IPC. Offence under Section 124-A IPC is not, prima-facie, made out. Why this section is added, it's beyond comprehension. Whatever is stated on behalf of the State, on this aspect, has no merit at all."

The Court had earlier said that in a democracy, dissent is always respected and considered, if suppressed, it will make the democracy weak.

The Chief Minister had filed a special leave petition in the apex court and said that he was open to any investigation, ensuring that facts will emerge. Following the HC order, the opposition party, Congress demanded immediate removal of Trivender Singh Rawat as the CM till the time probe is on, saying that he might influence the investigation.

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