NEW DELHI: DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran today got a breather from the Supreme Court which stayed the Madras High Court order cancelling his bail in the telephone exchange scam case and restrained CBI from quizzing him in custody, saying "political vendetta should not come in the picture."
The apex court was critical of the probe agency making the matter, in which Maran is accused of causing a loss of Rs 1.20 crore to the exchequer as a telecom minister during 2004-07, a "prestige issue" and seeking custodial interrogation of the former union minister.
A bench headed by Justice T S Thakur which sought CBI's response on Maran's plea questioned its intention to arrest him in a case registered in 2013 in which high ranking officers of telecom department has been arrested.
"What were you doing for the last two years. Why you have not arrested BSNL officials... Political vendetta should not come in the picture. Less said, the better," the bench, also comprising Justices V Gopala Gowda and R Banumathi said.
"You should have caught hold of officers and asked how the minister did it," the bench said, adding, "unless there is some other purpose for arresting why CBI should want to arrest him. Political vendetta should not come here."
"All types of things are happening in the realms of politics. This is not something which is shocking the conscience," the bench said and referred to the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam of Rs 8,000 crore in Uttar Pradesh in which not a single arrest has been made.
"This is not something where you need to arrest a person. In UP, Rs 8,000 crore went down the drain. Not a single person out of around 200 invvolved has been arrested.
Why do you want him in custody?"
"When it comes to Rs 8,000 crore scam. You will not arrest. When it comes to telephone bill you want to arrest," the bench said before putting the matter for September 14 when the CBI will respond to Maran's petition seeking protection from arrest.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for CBI, said the custodial interrogation of Maran, who was telecom minister during the UPA-1 regime, was necessary to "uearth the entire conspiracy" in which the the Chief General Manager of telecom department in Chennai was also allegedly involved.
Rohatgi referred to the facts of the case to stress that it was a huge corruption case as the telephone lines installed at Maran's Chennai residence were used for commercial purposes by their electronic media conglomerate SUN TV.
"If these corrupt actions are not covered, then what for there is Prevention of Corruption Act," Rohatgi said, contending that "Maran used clout in government to fix lines for use of the huge media house Sun TV that his family runs."
Maran, in his tenure as telecom minister got telephone lines installed at his Chennai residence and they were exclusively used by the SUN TV network for commercial purposes and prima facie estimates shows that a loss of Rs 1.20 crore had been caused to the state exchequer, he said, adding that the figure may rise.
The bench, which initially posed tough questions to Maran's counsel, later turned the heat on CBI and questioned its insistence on custodial interrogation.
The apex court was also critical that Attorney General was appearing in the matter of interim bail .
"The Attorney General is opposing the interim bail. It is a case of telephone misuse by some person who was in office for sometime. All that could have been done was to ask the officers who had laid the telephone lines," the bench said.
"You assess the loss. Why do you need him in custody. You give him questionnaire to answer. Is it a matter of prestige for you to arrest him? Nobody should get away after causing public loss. .. but custodial interrogation?.
"How did you assess the Rs one crore loss? You say no bills were raised. Anyway he is willing to pay? You raise the bill now and he will pay up," the bench said.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Maran, said, "There is no criminality in this case, only monetary claim. We will pay if any dues".
Maran had moved the apex court yesterday challenging the Madras High Court's decision to cancel his bail and asking him to surrender.
The High Court had on August 10 cancelled Maran's interim anticipatory bail in the case and directed him to surrender before the CBI within three days while holding that "prima facie" Maran had "misused" his office by obtaining telephone connections "illegally" and allegations against him were backed by material.
The High Court had rejected Maran's contention that CBI was seeking cancellation of his interim bail only to humiliate him.
CBI has registered an FIR against Maran and others alleging that more than 300 high-speed telephone lines were provided at his residence here and extended to his brother Kalanithi Maran's SUN TV channel to enable its uplinking when Dayanidhi Maran was Telecom Minister from 2004-07.