The much-expected investigation into black money parked abroad by a special investigation team (SIT) was stuck on the threshold itself when a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court was divided on Friday in their views about the court’s power to order such a probe. A bench of three judges will have to rehear the matter now.
In its turn, the government got a good excuse for not setting up the SIT. It can take the stand that the matter is sub-judice and it would not be proper to go ahead with the establishment of SIT when the whole issue is to be decided by a new bench.
The court had appointed a team to investigate the huge amounts stashed in foreign banks in nondescript islands, and retired judges were named to supervise the operation of the team.
However, the central government moved a petition before a new bench arguing that the Supreme Court has no such power. Ram Jethmalani, an MP in whose petition the court instituted the investigating team, submitted before the new bench that the government’s petition was not maintainable as the court had delivered a reasoned judgment explaining its power to make the order. Moreover, the court can review a judgment only if there are apparent errors.
Therefore, the government’s review petition must be rejected at the threshold itself, he argued.
The bench consisting of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice S S Nijjar were split in its decision. While Justice Kabir stated that the government’s review petition was maintainable and should be heard, the other judge ruled that the government could not be heard once the court passed the judgment.
Justice Nijjar was part of the earlier bench. The other judge in the old bench, Justice Sudershan Reddy, has since retired.
The practice of the court when two judges differ is to refer the issues to a larger bench consisting of three judges. This new bench will have to be set up by the Chief Justice.
This means a decision on the preliminary issue itself will take time to decide. After the issue of maintainability is decided, the court will have to go into the main legal issues. This will take further time for arguments and delivery of judgment.