CBI director Ranjit Sinha (R) had told court that Law Minister Ashwani Kumar (L), coal ministry and PMO officials had made 3 significant changes to the draft report
New Delhi - The Supreme Court delivered a scathing criticism of governmental interference in the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) investigation into the coal block allocation scam, calling the agency a “caged parrot” that “speaks in its master’s voice”.
Expressing displeasure at the changes made in the coal allocation probe report, a bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said, “the heart of the report was changed on the suggestions of the government officials”. “It’s a sordid saga that there are many masters and one parrot,” added the apex court.
The court bluntly said that the CBI’s job was to interrogate and not to interact with the government or any of its functionaries, while examining the 9-page fresh affidavit of the CBI that details the changes that it alleged were made by Union Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar to a draft of its report on the coal probe.
The court further said that while the government had the right to ask for a status on a particular probe, but had no business to intrude or interfere in an activity being carried out by the CBI, adding that the government could not apply external pressure on a probe through its officials.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati defended himself on Wednesday, saying that he was all for maintaining the independence of the CBI in conducting probes, and that he had not seen the report or its contents.
On Monday, the CBI had told the court that on March 6 this year, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and Coal Ministry officials and officers of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), had made three significant changes to a draft of the coal scam report that it submitted three days later in court.
The agency had said that the changes were made at three different meetings on that day. In one of them, it claims, coal ministry and PMO officials visited the CBI and asked that the investigating agency delete from the report its finding that there was no weightage or points system used when allocating coal blocks. Then, in a meeting at his office the same day, Kumar made two deletions in the draft report, the CBI claimed.
Kumar had allegedly deleted a portion that found that a screening committee reviewing applications for coal blocks did not prepare charts and reports. The affidavit says Kumar also deleted a sentence in the report on the agency’s scope of inquiry on the legality of coal bock allocations. In yet another meeting on that day, the CBI said Vahanvati, representing the Centre in the case, saw the draft and suggested “minor” changes.
However, CBI Director Ranjit Sinha had emphasised in his report that the changes “neither altered its central theme nor shifted the focus of inquiries in any manner.” Sinha had also assured the Supreme Court that no names of suspects or accused had been removed from the coal scam status report and that no suspects or accused had been let off in the process.
However, according to Congress sources, party president Sonia Gandhi was not too keen on Kumar and Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal — whose nephew was recently arrested in a bribery case — continuing in government.
In a significant order after a threehour hearing, the bench asked the government to come out with a law before July 10 to insulate CBI from external influence and intrusion. It also directed the CBI not to share any report pertaining to the investigation in the coal blocks allocation scam with any officials or ministers other than those in its 33-member investigation team and the CBI Director.
“If the CBI is not made independent, we will step in,” the court observed, adding that the agency “must know how to stand up against all pulls and pressures by government and its officials.”
PM, law minister must resign: BJP
Follwing the Supreme Court’s criticism of the government’s interference in the CBI probe into the coal scam, the BJP once again lashed out at the Congress-led UPA government and demanded the resignation of Union Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“The CBI affidavit clearly says that the Law Minster was involved. The Prime Minister also has no moral right to continue. This is a clear case of misuse of the CBI,” he said.“Culpability of the Law Ministry, this is our initial demand. After the order of the Supreme Court also, they played with the report. Even the Law Minister should resign. The Law Minister did it to save the PM,” said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
Coalgate concerns the government’s allocation of the nation's coal deposits to public sector entities (PSEs) and private companies by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In a draft report issued in March 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) office accused the government of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during the period 2004-2009. In 2012, BJP lodged a complaint resulting in a CBI probe into whether the allocation of the coal blocks was in fact influenced by corruption.
The essence of the CAG’s argument is that the government had the authority to allocate coal blocks by a process of competitive bidding, but chose not to. As a result both PSEs and private firms paid less than they might have otherwise. In its draft report in March this year, the CAG estimated that the “windfall gain” to the allocatees was Rs 10,673.03 billion.
The CAG’s final report tabled in Parliament put the figure at Rs1855.91 billion. On August 27 last year, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh read out a statement in Parliament rebutting the CAG’s report both in its reading of the law and the alleged cost of the government’s policies.
Make the CBI independent