The SC’s dismissal of the government’s plea paves the way for the anti-graft agency to finally begin a probe into an alleged scam the government first allowed and later retracted, a move the Gauhati High Court has termed “enigmatic”.
The People’s Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram, or PRISM, had in October 2008 filed an FIR against the state’s Power and Electricity Department (P&E) which constructed the two mini hydel projects.
The complaint pointed out that the estimate for the Tuipanglui mini hydel project rose from Rs 980 lambs in 1992 to Rs 3721 lakhs by 2001 (an almost four-fold escalation over less than a decade), while that for the Kau-Tlabung mini hydel project rose from Rs 482 lakhs in 1994 to Rs 3253 lakhs in 2001 (an almost seven-fold escalation over seven years).
The ACB conducted a preliminary enquiry and found that 13 government engineers led by the then Engineer-in charge of the Mizoram Public Works Department caused a loss of Rs 1.75 crores to the state exchequer while building the two hydel projects.
The ACB conducted two more enquiries following calls for clarification by the Vigilance Department, but each time the agency made out prima-facie cases of corruption.
Finally the Vigilance Department in May 2010 gave the ACB the green light to register criminal cases against 16 government engineers from both the state PWD and P&E departments.
Less than two months later, however, the Vigilance Department withdrew the permission.
PRISM took the government to court over the withdrawing of the permission, but the government argued neither the CAG, the Public Accounts Committee under the state legislature nor a departmental enquiry found cases of misappropriation.
The Gauhati HC however questioned the Vigilance Department action of cancelling the permission for an ACB investigation and doubted the exact extent the other bodies cited by the government during the case arguments might have gone to during their own enquiries. It passed an order that the ACB proceed with the investigation and wind up the case by September this year.
Interestingly, the Mizoram government to hired seven lawyers and approached the SC against the High Court order. The three-judge bench headed by CJI H L Dattu however dismissed the petition saying it is not inclined to interfere with the High Court order.