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Cases against film stars, PILs dominated legal scene in Maha

Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Cases against the famous Khan troika of Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir, dispute between Thackeray brothers Udhav and Jaidev over father’s will, NSEL scam and a spate of public interest litigations in the Bombay High Court dominated the legal scenario in Maharashtra during 2014.

Cases related to former Miss World Yukta Mookhey’s divorce, actor Shiney Ahuja’s hearing, Vodafone IT issue and Adarsh scam also made news.

A fresh trial resumed in a sessions court in the 2002 hit-and-run case involving Salman with prosecution examining more than 15 witnesses during the year. The trial has reached its fag end with a few more witnesses waiting to be examined.

Salman is facing the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder which attracts sentence up to 10 years. Earlier, he was being tried by a magistrate for rash and negligent driving which prescribes punishment up to two years.

In a relief to Shah Rukh, the high court in June dismissed a petition filed by activist Varsha Deshpande against a magistrate’s order not allowing her access to records of the surrogate mother in the case of actor’s newborn child in 2013.

Deshpande had sought prosecution of the actor, his wife and their doctors on the basis of a media report in June 2013 which claimed that the star couple were having a baby boy through surrogacy. Aamir denied the allegations.

In another development in early December, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal overturned an order of the tax authorities to add Rs 2.28 crore to Shah Rukh’s net wealth as he had lent his wife as interest free loan to buy flat and jewellery.

The superstar’s wife Gauri had used Rs 1.65 crore of the loaned amount to buy a house in Delhi and Rs 63 lakh for jewellery. Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals) had ordered adding the amount to Shah Rukh’s net wealth for Assessment Year 2005-06 on ground that it amounted to transfer of assets.

A civil suit was filed against Aamir and producer and director of his film “PK” challenging the semi-nude poster of the actor saying it displayed vulgarity. The court ruled in December that it had the jurisdiction to hear the suit.

In the matrimonial dispute, Mookhey and her estranged husband Prince Tuli were granted divorce as a result of mutual consent by a family court.

Later, the Bombay High Court quashed the FIR registered against Tuli at Yukta’s instance. The court also asked police to hand over personal belongings of the estranged couple, collected as evidence, to the respective parties following their amicable settlement.

Ahuja filed an appeal in the high court against his conviction and sentence in a rape case but the court refused to expedite the hearing observing older cases were pending and the actor was already out on bail. In 2009, Ahuja was sentenced to seven years rigorous imprisonment for raping his domestic help.

Hearing a PIL against extension of parole granted to actor Sanjay Dutt, convicted in the 1993 bomb blast case, the high court pulled up the state government for showing “extra diligence” in the matter and discriminating between him and other convicts.

The court also directed the state’s Chief Secretary to form a committee comprising senior home, law and judiciary department officials, representatives of jail administration and other competent officers to suggest amendments to the rules and procedure related to screening of parole and furlough applications.

The PIL argued that while Dutt’s application for parole and then its extension were decided within a week, similar applications of other convicts were kept pending for months together.

In August, the high court granted conditional bail to FTIL founder Jignesh Shah in the Rs 5000 crore NSEL scam over three months after he was arrested in the case. The trial court had earlier rejected his bail plea on the ground the investigation was still on and he could tamper with evidence or hamper the probe if released.

Shah came under the scanner of EOW and other agencies in 2013 when NSEL, part of the Financial Technologies (India) Limited group founded by him, faced a payment crisis as nearly 18,000 of its investors allegedly lost millions of rupees.

In October, the high court ruled that Vodafone is not liable to pay an income tax demand of Rs 3,200 crore in a case relating to transfer pricing. The verdict came as a big relief for the UK-based mobile service provider which is already locked in a big tax dispute with the government.

The I-T Department had asked the company to pay additional income tax during FY10 alleging that it had undervalued its shares in subsidiary Vodafone India Services while transferring them to the parent company in Britain.

In another case in November, the I-T department lost its Rs 18,000-crore transfer pricing cases against oil firm Shell India in HC, which quashed the department’s tax order.

The tax sleuth had added Rs 15,000 crore and Rs 3,000 crore respectively to the taxable income of Shell India Markets Pvt Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, for the FY 2007-08 and FY 2008-09 in two transfer pricing cases.

Hearing a PIL, the high court, in October, asked Reserve Bank of India to respond to a petition which sought CBI probe into fraudulent grant of loans and consequent rise in nationalised banks’ non-performing assets.

The PIL said NPAs of nationalised banks jumped from Rs 455 crore in March 2008 to Rs 9,190 crore in March 2012
rding to data obtained under the Right to Information Act. Thackeray’s brothers Udhav and Jaidev got entangled in a legal dispute over their father’s will. The HC advised both siblings to settle amicably by giving them time until January 6, 2015.

Udhav had moved the high court to probate the will left behind by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in which he had got a major share. Jaidev, who did not get any share, challenged the will saying his father was not in sound mind while signing it.

In the Adarsh scam case, the high court in November rejected CBI’s plea to remove former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s name from accused in the FIR. Aggrieved Chavan moved the high court recently to recall the impugned order which was stayed for six weeks.

The high court, on November 14, stayed the implementation of the controversial decision of the erstwhile Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra to provide reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions announced ahead of the state Assembly election.

It also stayed the decision to provide five per cent reservation to Muslims in government service but allowed quotas for them in educational institutions.

Admitting a batch of PILs, a bench headed by Chief Justice Mohit Shah said the Supreme Court had already laid down the law for reservation which cannot exceed 50 per cent of the total seats.

52 per cent seats in government jobs and educational institutions were already reserved for the targeted groups and the Congress-NCP government had, in the run up to the Assembly poll, raised it to 73 per cent by announcing 16 per cent quotas for Marathas and five per cent for Muslims.

The State moved the Supreme Court by filing an appeal but the apex court refused to interfere and referred the matter back to the high court.

Hearing another PIL filed by activist Ketan Tirodkar, the high court, on October 9, appointed Justice J A Patil (retd) to probe alleged irregularities in the allotment of flats under the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s discretionary housing quota since 1982.

Retd Judge Patil is functioning from Pune and has been given office and infrastructure to carry out the probe.

In another petition filed by Tirodkar, the court, on May 9, transferred to CBI the probe into the murder of anti- superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013. Earlier, Pune police was investigating the high-profile case but there was no headway following which a PIL was filed seeking a CBI probe into the case.

The high court, on December 4, dismissed a bunch of PILs challenging the decision of Maharashtra Assembly Speaker who had ordered a ‘voice vote’ instead of a head count, enabling the newly-elected BJP government to prove its majority in the House last month. The court said it did not have the jurisdiction to hear such PILs challenging Speaker’s decision in the house.

The court on April 10 dismissed a PIL seeking postponement of Satara Lok Sabha election following NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s “ink” and “double voting” remark. It observed that it cannot interfere in election process and cannot direct the Election Commission to change or postpone poll dates.

In another development, the high court, in December, ordered a probe by a special investigation team into allegations of money laundering against former Maharashtra PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal, his son Pankaj and nephew Sameer in connection with certain contracts awarded to private firms. The petition was filed by Aam Aadmi Party.

Hearing yet another petition, the high court, in early December, gave three months to Maharashtra government to frame a fresh policy on providing protection to witnesses in the light of the observations made by the Law Commission of India.

Picking holes in the existing policy, the court observed the term witness should include not only those who are going to depose in the court but anyone who possesses information and documents related to a crime.

In another PIL on allegations about custodial deaths, the high court in August asked the Maharashtra government to install CCTV cameras in all police stations across the state. Again, in November, on the same issue, the court granted four weeks further time to carry out this exercise.

Hearing a PIL seeking a ban on participation of children in the mourning ritual of Muharram, the high court appealed to the religious leaders to look into the issue. Members of Shia community opposed the PIL and court allowed them to intervene. The matter is pending decision.

Another PIL sought a direction to civic bodies in Maharashtra to prevent the spread of dengue and urged that the disease should be declared as an epidemic as several persons have lost their lives. The high court has asked municipal corporations to take steps in this regard.

A petition in the court urged for a direction to the state government to tighten security during Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 years in Nasik in 2015. The court has sought the government’s reply to the PIL.

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