The UPA government was forced to junk its plan to appoint former Allahabad High Court judge A B Srivastava to probe the alleged snooping scandal involving BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi after the Law Ministry raised a red flag.
The Law Ministry, it is learnt, refused to play along with the proposal of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to issue a notification about the appointment of justice Srivastava to probe the allegations.
Sources in the Law Ministry told The Indian Express that while the MHA wanted to set up the probe panel through a simple notification, the Law Ministry took the stand that the issue would have to be placed before the Cabinet for its consideration and decision.
During discussions with senior MHA functionaries, senior Law Ministry officers told them that since the earlier decision to appoint a probe panel had been taken by the Cabinet last year, any fresh decision, especially one that was not in line with the earlier Cabinet decision, would also have to be cleared by the Cabinet.
On December 26 last year, the Cabinet had decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of snooping on a woman in Gujarat, allegedly at the behest of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The commission, which had to complete its probe within three months, was to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court.
The Commission was also going to look into charges of snooping on Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh by the previous BJP government when he was in the opposition as well as the leaking of phone call records of BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
However, when its efforts to find a suitable and, more importantly, willing former Supreme Court judge or a retired High Court Chief Justice did not yield any results within the allotted three months, the MHA unilaterally decided to appoint a retired HC judge.
Legislative Department Additional Secretary Sanjay Singh was also called to the MHA to help draft the notification. But once it realised that the MHA did not plan to seek Cabinet nod for the revised notification, the Law Ministry refused to play ball. Sources said Law Minister Kapil Sibal also met Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to apprise him of his officials’ view.
When reached for comments, Law Secretary P K Malhotra said, “Yes, since the earlier decision had been taken by the Cabinet, this decision also required Cabinet approval. That was our view. As to why the MHA has decided against proceeding with the matter, you please talk to them.”
Despite attempts, Home Minister Shinde and Home Secretary Anil Goswami could not be reached for comments.
MHA sources, confirming that the matter was closed “for the time being” due to the Law Ministry’s stand, said the name of the former Allahabad HC judge was recommended by a top Congress functionary.