The Delhi High Court on Monday stayed the conviction of former union minister Dilip Ray, who was sentenced to three-year jail term in a coal scam case pertaining to irregularities in the allocation of a Jharkhand block in 1999, to enable him to contest the upcoming Odisha legislative assembly elections.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma allowed Ray's application in which he sought a stay on the conviction and said if the conviction is not suspended, it would lead to an irreversible consequence in case he is acquitted at a later stage.

“In case the applicant’s (Ray) prayer is not allowed, he will lose chance to contest election and an irreversible consequence and irreversible damage to his political career and desire to serve his constituency will be caused to him….,” the court said.

The high court directed that Ray's conviction in the case shall stand stayed during the pendency of his appeal against his conviction and sentence by the trial court.

Ray was sentenced to three years in jail on October 26, 2020 by a trial court which had also imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on him.

Ray, 71, was Minister of State (coal) in the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He said in his petition that he wishes to contest the upcoming Odisha Assembly elections and this could be his last chance to serve the people.

Ray, who was represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Pramod Kumar Dubey, said in the plea that by virtue of Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, he stands disqualified from contesting the upcoming national or Odisha Assembly elections or getting nominated to the Rajya Sabha which irreparably and irreversibly causes grave prejudice to him, especially considering his age.

Senior advocate R S Cheema and lawyer Tarannum Cheema, appearing for the CBI, had opposed the plea saying Ray did not merit a suspension of conviction in view of the extent of corruption involved. Moreover, the matter arises from a class of coal block allocation cases.

The probe agency said in view of the seriousness of the offence and the insufficiency of the sentence awarded to Ray, the CBI had preferred an appeal for enhancement of his punishment before the high court which admitted the appeal in May 2022.

While granting Ray the relief, the court took into consideration his long political career during which he became a union minister on several occasions as well a minister in the Odisha government.

“He is 71 years of age and wishes to contest elections to be held in the month of May, 2024 and serve his constituency and the country. It is not as if he has expressed his desire to do so only for the purpose of suspension of his conviction by contesting the election for the first time. He has a political career running into more than 35 years.

“As noted above, the elections are to be held in the year 2024, he is 71 years of age, and multiple appeals and cross-appeals have been filed in this case which will take time to be heard and are not likely to be heard and decided in the nearest future,” the high court noted.

The court clarified that this order does not amount to acquittal but is merely suspension of conviction in peculiar circumstances of the case.

The high court had on October 27, 2020, issued notice to the CBI on Ray’s appeal challenging his conviction and sentence and suspended his three-year jail term.

However, he had then not pressed the prayer for suspension of the order on conviction in view of the appeal being listed for final disposal. The court had dismissed the application as not pressed.

Besides him, the trial court had also awarded three-year jail term each to two senior officials of the ministry at that time -- Pradip Kumar Banerjee and Nitya Nand Gautam.

The trial court had convicted Ray of the offences of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust by public servant and cheating under the IPC and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court had said Ray “dishonestly facilitated" allocation of the abandoned non-nationalised coal mining area in favour of a company named Castron Technologies Ltd (CTL) in violation of law.

The case pertains to allocation of Brahmadiha coal block in Jharkhand's Giridih district to CTL in 1999.

(Except for the headline, this story, from a syndicated feed, has not been edited by staff)