On September 2, 2014, public interest litigator Prashant Bhushan submitted a copy of the visitors’ log maintained at the residence of the then Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Ranjit Sinha, to the Supreme Court. The registers showed that Sinha had met several accused in cases such as the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the coal allocation scam.
The records were submitted in connection with an earlier petition filed by Bhushan, seeking that Sinha should be stopped from overseeing 2G cases for reasons of alleged interference. On September 9, 2014, Bhushan moved a fresh application, seeking the removal of Sinha from the coal investigation in the light of details in the registers. He also asked for a probe by a Special Investigation Team into Sinha’s links with the accused who figure in the logs.
On Thursday, the court, while hearing the coal-related petition, asked the Central Vigilance Commission to tell the court how to probe the case.
The registers — contents of which were revealed by The Indian Express in a series of reports — show that many accused being investigated by the CBI had free access to Sinha’s official residence. Among those who visited the then CBI chief were officials of the Reliance ADA Group and Mahendra Nahata, promoter of Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd (HFCL), who were among the alleged beneficiaries of the 2G scam. Devendra Darda, another visitor, was an accused in the coal scam.
He acknowledged he had met some of those named in the logs, but maintained the number of visits were grossly exaggerated. He filed a case of perjury against Bhushan, a charge the Supreme Court rejected on Thursday. Sinha gave dates of his out-of-town visits to argue that the entries were false. He alleged mischief, and named a serving senior officer, Santosh Rastogi, as a possible “mole” who supplied documents to Bhushan. Sinha has maintained that though he met several people, CBI files stand testimony that he favoured no one.
On September 15, while hearing Sinha’s counsel, the Supreme Court asked Bhushan to reveal the name of the whistleblower. Bhushan declined, but on September 21, he gave the original diary to the apex court. Bhushan continues to maintain the logs were supplied by an “unknown” source.
IMPROPER OR ILLEGAL?
Several retired CBI directors have viewed Sinha’s meetings at his residence in the absence of investigating officers as being improper, and raising issues of probity. Some officials have pointed out that many CBI cases against public officials under the Prevention of Corruption Act were made out on the basis of circumstantial evidence such as meetings. If it is proved that Sinha favoured any of his visitors, he can be charged under the PCA, and could face a jail term of up to seven years.
After eight months of hearing, the Supreme Court has said that the meetings Sinha had were “inappropriate”, and needed to be “investigated”. The CVC has been asked to file a report on how to probe the matter. The CVC is the oversight body of the CBI; however, the CVC Act does not give it power to investigate a retired officer. For reasons of conflict of interest, it seems unlikely that CBI would be asked to investigate the case. One option could be for the CVC to set up a team under the directions of the Supreme Court and monitor the investigation.
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