The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the Thane police not to take any coercive action against the NCB’s former zonal director Sameer Wankhede till February 28 in connection with an FIR for forgery and wilful misrepresentation while procuring liquor license for his restaurant and bar in 1997. A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and N R Borkar said Wankhede shall appear before the Thane police on February 23 (Wednesday) pursuant to the summons issued to him and extend his full cooperation with the investigation. “Without going into the merits of the case, in the peculiar circumstances and facts of the case, interim protection from any coercive action can be given," the court said.
The court noted that there was nothing urgent in the matter and posted it for hearing on February 28. “There are so many prisoners languishing in jail since years and we are unable to take up their petitions for hearing," Justice Shinde said.
Justice Borkar questioned the police’s intentions for taking Wankhede into custody in a case dating back to 1997. “It is an offence on 1997. What are you (police) going to do now?" Justice Borkar asked.
The court was informed by public prosecutor Aruna Kamat Pai that the police had on February 20 issued a notice to Wankhede under section 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) asking him to appear before it on February 23. Wankhede’s advocates Aabad Ponda and Niranjan Mundargi then said that he was ready to appear before the police, but due to the sensitive nature of the case and there is apprehension that there was political pressure on the police, no coercive action should be taken against him till the next date of hearing on the petition. “He (Wankhede) was a minor in 1997. There cannot be a FIR in the case. The offences under which he has been booked are punishable only up to seven years," Ponda said.
Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik sought to intervene in the matter. “There are some allegations made in the petition against the minister and hence he would like to respond to the same," Malik’s advocate Feroze Bharucha said. “If Wankhede is willing to delete these allegations from the petition then the minister will not intervene," Bharucha said.
Wankhede had on Monday moved the High Court seeking for the FIR to be quashed and interim protection from any coercive action. The FIR was lodged against Wankhede by the state excise department in Thane’s Kopari police station. As per the complaint, the documents submitted to them in 1997 for procuring licence, for selling liquor in a restaurant and bar, in Wankhede’s name, were forged.
Wankhede was a minor (17-year-old) when the liquor licence was procured in his name, the complaint stated. The petition alleges action “pursuant to directions and political pressure stemming from personal vendetta of state Cabinet Minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik, against Wankhede.
In the plea, Wankhede said he was a minor at the time of the alleged offence and hence should be heard by the Juvenile Justice Board as per provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. “The petitioner most vehemently submits that, admittedly, as per the contents of the FIR, the accused was 17 years of age when the alleged crime had taken place vide the mother of the Petitioner. That, by virtue of the Petitioner being merely 17 years of age, he was not a major during the commission of the alleged crime," the plea said.
The law of the land does not acknowledge that a minor had the capacity to orchestrate the entire crime at hand, it said. The petitioner was merely in college when the alleged offence is said to have taken place, and was merely signing documents where he was asked by his mother, the plea stated. The petition also said that since he was a public officer, prior sanction ought to have been taken before lodging the FIR. Wankhede has been booked under sections 181 (false statement to a public servant), 420 (cheating), 465 (forgery) and 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating) of the IPC.