Govt refuses free hand to CBI to probe top officers

Government has refused to make exception to the rule mandating CBI to approach it for sanction to investigate officers.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: July 17, 2013 9:09 pm

PUTTING up a fight to hold on to its power to decide whether the CBI can be allowed to interrogate top officers,the Centre told the Supreme Court Wednesday that this authority could not be taken away even in a court-ordered or -monitored investigation such as the coal blocks allotment case.

In its submissions before a bench led by Justice R M Lodha,the government refused to make any exception to the rule mandating the CBI to approach it for sanction to investigate officers at the level of joint secretary or above,as provided under Section 6A of the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act.

Replying to the court’s query on why the CBI should approach the government for sanction to investigate,the government said that the “court is not at liberty to negate this provision even in exercise of powers under Articles 32 and 142” and that this requirement could not be waived “under any circumstances.”

The two articles refer to extraordinary powers to enforce fundamental rights and pass any order.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati said the rule mandating the CBI to seek government permission was a necessary safeguard to prevent senior officers from harassment and that any departure from it could lead to very serious ramifications since several cases were being monitored by the court. If sanction was refused,the CBI could very well challenge it in court,he added.

Unimpressed by his arguments,the bench wondered what the government’s worry was when the matter was being looked into by the court. It said that “permission to investigate should follow as a matter of fact”.

Pointing to the AG that the government initially refused to let the CBI question former coal secretary H C Gupta over alleged irregularities in coal blocks allotment,the bench said the “real problem was distrust in the institutions” because of recent developments.

The court observed that the government’s interpretation of the law could be “unpalatable” since it was impractical for the CBI to move the authorities every time it needed to question someone in cases of a vast magnitude such as the coal blocks allotment.

The AG however held his ground,saying that although the “CBI will love to investigate everybody”,the law would require it to seek sanction. The arguments came after the CBI sought permission to share details of the probe with the government to get permissions. The bench has now set August 6 to decide on the need for such sanction.

The bench,which at its last hearing clarified that it would not let the CBI share probe details with the political executive in the garb of getting permissions,pulled up the agency again for taking shelter under the law and its willingness to give away by one hand what it received by another.

“You cannot be allowed to share information with political bosses or your lawyers just like that. It has to be stage-specific. When the stage is ripe,you can come to the court for a permission to share information with a particular person or authority. You must see no stone is left unturned to find the truth. The effort should be to bring guilty to book by taking matter to the logical end (sic),” the bench told senior lawyer Amrendra Sharan.

Sharan became the fourth lawyer to represent the CBI in the case since its director Ranjit Sinha told the court in May that then law minister Ashwani Kumar and officials from the PMO and coal ministry had amended a probe status report into the coal blocks allotment case before its submission in court.

Also commenting on the CBI’s demand to give its director a minimum tenure of three years instead of the Cabinet proposal of two years,the court said: “Everyone now wants extension of tenure. It is not the term but the mindset to work in the institutional framework in a non-partisan manner that is more important. No individual in indispensable or permanent.”

The bench also told the Centre that it was weakening the judiciary at the cost of strengthening tribunals by inviting retired judges from the Supreme Court and high court to fill up posts at various forums.

The court also allowed the CBI to include more officers into the team investigating the coal blocks allotment with a caveat that DIG Ravi Kant will continue to head the team looking into all allotments between 2006 and 2009. It will hear the government’s justification on allotment of coal blocks on September 10.

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