Delhi HC upholds order dismissing businessman Arun Pillai’s application raising objections to commencement of arguments on charge in excise policy case; orders speedy trial
Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma [07-06-2024]




LE Correspondent


New Delhi, June 8, 2024: While confirming the order of the Trial Court that had rejected the plea of businessman Arun Ramchandran Pillai raising objections to the commencement of arguments on charge in excise policy case, the Delhi High Court has held that he would be entitled to supply of additional documents which may be filed against co-accused K. Kavitha


The case as presented by the CBI in the FIR was that during the formulation of Delhi's Excise Policy of 2021-22, the accused persons had entered into a criminal conspiracy, thereby intentionally creating or leaving loopholes in the policy to be exploited later on. Substantial kickbacks were allegedly paid in advance to the public servants involved, in exchange for undue pecuniary benefits to the conspirators in the liquor trade. Kickbacks totalling around Rs. 90-100 crores were paid in advance to co-accused persons by certain individuals in the South Indian liquor business (South Group). These kickbacks were found to have been returned back to them subsequently out of the profit margins of wholesale distributors and also through the credit notes issued by them to the retail zone licensees related to the South liquor lobby. Furthermore, the criminal conspiracy allegedly resulted in the formation of a cartel among three components of the policy: liquor manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.


After conducting investigation, CBI filed a charge-sheet before the Trial Court on 25.11.2022 against 7 accused persons including the present petitioner i.e., Arun Ramchandran Pillai (accused no. 5) for offences punishable under Sections 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and Sections 7, 7A and 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act). During the course of proceedings, the petitioner herein moved an application raising objections to commencement of arguments on charge before the Trial Court but the same was dismissed. The petitioner approached the High Court by filing petition u/s 483 CrPC seeking quashing of this order.


The accused was alleged to have been linked to K. Kavitha who has been arrested by the CBI. It was argued that the statement recorded by the CBI in relation to K. Kavitha under Section 161/164 of the Cr.P.C. must be given to the petitioner herein which the petitioner can rely upon during arguments on charge qua him. It was submitted that since the chargesheet against K. Kavitha has not been filed yet, the petitioner cannot get documents related to the chargesheet which would be filed against K. Kavitha. It was thus submitted that considering the above aspects, the Trial Court be directed to defer the arguments on charge till further investigation is completed and documents relied upon by the CBI qua K Kavitha are supplied to the petitioner as per Section 207 of Cr.P.C.


“At the stage of charge, a crucial right of the accused is also to seek discharge on the basis of the entire material placed before the Court, as per law. However, the accused can prepare his arguments on charge or discharge, only when he is aware about the entire incriminating material collected against him by the prosecuting agency”, the Single-Judge Bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said. For framing a charge of criminal conspiracy under Section 120B of IPC, read with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the prosecution will have to present prima facie material showing the accused's agreement, either explicit or implied, with other co-accused to engage in activities that constitute these offences. 


A perusal of the chargesheet and supplementary chargesheets filed in this case till date by CBI revealed that one of the main allegations against the present petitioner Arun R. Pillai was that he was acting on behalf of K. Kavitha and communicating with other co-accused persons including co-accused  Vijay Nair. He had received 65% of the profits out of total profits earned by M/s Indo Spirits. The petitioner had received this amount, allegedly as recoupment of advance kickbacks paid by the South Group at the time of formulation of the new Excise Policy, on behalf of K. Kavitha.


Referring to the judgment of the Top Court in Sunita Devi v. The State of Bihar [LQ/SC/2024/567], the Bench said, “This Court is also of the view that Section 207 of the Cr.P.C protects an accused's right to a fair trial.”


The Bench concurred with the view of the Trial Court that though 16 accused persons have already been charge sheeted and hearing arguments on charge will take considerable time, in case any further supplementary chargesheet is filed qua any other accused person, the hearing on arguments on charge may then be halted and copies of such chargesheet and relied upon documents be supplied to all the accused persons, and the present accused will also get an opportunity to address his arguments with respect to the new material/evidence brought on record.


“This Court is also of the opinion that keeping in view the rules of natural justice, fair trial and criminal jurisprudence, the accused will be entitled to supply of those additional documents which may be filed against the co-accused with whom he has been alleged to have conspired with and as stated above, to additionally address arguments on charge on the basis of such additional material directly involving his role in the conspiracy”, it said.


Thus, confirming the order of the Trial Court, the Bench that once the CBI files the said supplementary chargesheet before the Trial Court, on the first day of hearing itself, the I.O. will ensure that hard copies of the said charge-sheet as well as the digitized copies of the same are provided to the accused persons before the Trial Court, to save time of pre-trial proceedings.


The Bench further ordered, “The Trial Court will thereafter give short dates in this case for scrutiny of the said documents. The I.O. shall also ensure that the copies which are given to the accused persons are legible and paginated. The accused persons may go through the said copies and inform the I.O. about any deficiency in the hard copies and digitized copies within two days…The learned Trial Court is requested that the arguments on charge be heard immediately thereafter keeping in view the above timeline, and block dates be given to each accused for arguments on charge.”

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