The Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday rejecting Essar Group Chairman, Ravikant Ruia’s request to fly abroad during the pendency trial of the 2G spectrum allocation case, is an indirect message to both the current Narendra Modi government and erstwhile UPA government on how they have carelessly dealt with cases involving some of the prominent alleged offenders. The SC ruling on Ruia has immediately triggered media reports linking it to the Vijay Mallya episode.
This is what the court said. “We do not want to take a chance any more. It is like once bitten twice shy. We won't allow him to go abroad. We had passed a wrong order allowing a person to go abroad and he is now not coming back. We don't want to commit the same mistake again," a Times of India report quoted the SC bench. The court, according to the report, refrained from naming the person who betrayed the trust the court.
Did the SC mean indeed Mallya by referring the “person”? It is unlikely. In Mallya’s case, banks moved the apex court with the request to detain him almost a week after the billionaire left the country (on 2 March) to the UK. After this, a few other courts in the country too issued summons or warnings to the liquor baron to return to the country to face the law and pay back the money to banks. But, the SC never allowed Mallya to leave the country.
Could it have been Lailt Modi who had also left to the UK amid the thick of IPL scam? That’s a better possibility since the court had indeed listened to Modi’s request that he needed to go to the UK on personal grounds. But, even there, one cannot say with full conviction that the SC was indeed referring to Modi. These are matters of legal debates.
But, whoever that “person” is, beyond the technicalities, the larger point here is that the executive government, whether the UPA or the NDA, and their investigative agencies, are equally responsible for their failure to foresee the developments in both cases and later finding themselves in great embarrassment.
Look at Mallya’s case. There are not too many instances where the government of the country and its investigative agencies almost admitted defeat despite trying out all possible ways to bring one individual to face the law. The government’s miscalculated moves — first letting the Kingfisher chief, who has given a personal guarantee to banks for Rs 9,000 crore loans overdue, escape the country and second, hurrying to take extreme steps such as cancelling the passport and pushing for deportation/ extradition before making a watertight case – has caused big embarrassment to the Narendra Modi government given that Mallya is still beyond its reach.
In the hindsight, it reminds one the UPA government’s plight in dealing with Lalit Modi. Mallya, in a way, became Lalit Modi version 2 for the NDA government. The Vijay Mallya-Kingfisher case is a classic case of both the government agencies and banks acting late to recover the money. It also epitomises the inefficiency of the system in dealing with high value alleged offenders. In an earlier article, this website had raised the question that whether the Kingfisher episode has already become a case of quiet defeat for the Modi-government.
Besides the embarrassment and loss to public money, the Lalit Modis and Vijay Mallyas also set a bad precedent to other individuals who would find themselves in a similar situation. It has become an easy route for the rich and powerful to engage in unlawful activities and move out of the country to escape the law. The law, it appears, can take its course only in the case of economically and politically weaker citizen. Had the Congress-led UPA (in Lalit Modi case) and BJP-led NDA (in Mallya’s case) had acted on time, the embarrassment caused later could have been avoided.
Remember, eventhough there was no specific, proven charges against Mallya at the time he left, everyone (banks and investigative agencies) should have foreseen what is in store and acted early. Mallya’s exit on 2 March, only a few days before banks moved the apex court seeking his detention raises questions on whether the liquor-baron was promptly tipped off about what is coming. Same is with the ‘inadvertent error’ the CBI has cited for changing the nature of the look out notice on Mallya from ‘detention’ to ‘mere observation and inform’, which effectively helped Mallya to flee.
Bottom line is this: The Ruia instance shows the growing trust deficit of the judiciary in the executive when it comes to dealing with those alleged offenders involved in scams and unlawful activities. The Modi government should take serious note.