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Heart of coal report changed,says SC

CBI has become a caged parrot,speaking in its masters' voice,says Supreme Court.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: May 8, 2013 9:55:42 pm

The Supreme Court Wednesday said it was perturbed by the CBI changing the “heart” of the coal blocks allotment probe status report at the instance of its “masters” and ordered the agency’s director to ensure that Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and other ministers do not have access to such reports in the future.

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The keenly-watched hearing lasted three hours and witnessed the CBI incurring the wrath of the court for its submissiveness to outsiders who could come under the ambit of the probe. But the law minister got some breathing space with the bench deciding to postpone examining his authority to call for the reports and make changes in them before submission to the court.

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“Henceforth,the CBI director shall ensure that in the matter of inquiry and investigation of allocation of coal blocks,no access of any nature is provided to any persons or authority,including the minister of concerned department,law minister or any other central minister,law officers,CBI counsels,director of prosecution or any other person outside the investigation team,” the bench led by Justice R M Lodha said.

The CBI team investigating the case will not change without the permission of the court and the agency will approach the bench if it required the assistance of any outsider,it added. It also directed that CBI DIG Ravikant Mishra,who was initially a part of the investigating team but had moved to the Intelligence Bureau,be repatriated.

In a bid to insulate the CBI from “external influences and intrusion”,the court also asked the Centre to consider bringing an effective law,preferably by July 10,the next date of hearing.

Agreeing to examine whether the law minister could ask the CBI to show him the draft status report and suggest changes when the case was being monitored by the court,the bench said it acknowledged that the minister was answerable to Parliament. However,the court said,he could only seek the status of the investigation “but not intervene”.

“We know CBI is a force created by the government and you have full control over it but investigation is a component,which under the law,has been left independent. While making CBI answerable,it has been made clear that investigation is not to be touched by the government,” the bench said,adding that there could be no justification for the CBI to allow outsiders to peruse the report and suggest changes.

In his affidavit,CBI director Ranjit Sinha had admitted to the court that as many as four significant changes were made in the final status report at the instance of the law minister and officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and coal ministry during the course of three meetings held on March 6 – two days before the report was submitted to the apex court.

“The latest events show that CBI has become a caged parrot,speaking in its masters’ voice. It is a sordid saga that it is one parrot with many masters. It is very strange that instead of interrogating them,it was busy interacting with the officers of the coal ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. CBI should know how to stand up to all pulls and pressures. Yours was an act of indiscretion,” the bench said.

The court also pulled up joint secretaries in the PMO and the coal ministry for meeting CBI officials and suggesting changes in the draft report. At their instance,the CBI had deleted the tentative finding that there was no system to allot specific weightage/points. Joint secretaries in the PMO and coal ministry,Shatrughna Singh and A K Bhalla,had met CBI officials and suggested two changes. One related to deleting a sentence and another on incorporating a statement on “non-existence of approved guidelines for allocation of coal blocks”.

Terming the original sentence as the “heart of the report,” the bench slammed the officials,saying: “They have no business to interact with CBI. How can joint secretary go through the probe report? There are people from these departments who are being probed. It is a very complicated situation where outsiders,whose roles are under the scanner,are allowed access to the reports and CBI calls it mere interaction,” the court said.

It pointed out that the change made at the behest of PMO and coal ministry officials were admittedly significant and it had the potential to change the entire course of investigation into the most crucial probe in Preliminary Enquiry-2,which related to the allotment of coal blocks in 2006-09 by UPA-I. Notably,the two changes made after the intervention of the law minister also related to the same PE.

“Everybody seems to be keen only on perusing and suggesting changes in PE-2. There could not be direct evidence in such matters and a large part would be based on inferences. But you accept changes suggested to you. It was an absolute mistake on your part and you should now admit your fault instead of justifying it that you had reasons to accept these changes,” the bench told the CBI.

The CBI counsel,in response,admitted that there were “aberrations” on the part of the agency in showing the reports to the minister and others and that they were willing to assure the bench that they would not do so in the future and undertake the probe in all seriousness and fairness.

Meanwhile,Attorney General G E Vahanvati,alleged to have misinformed the court that he did not see the report,sought to defend himself by claiming that he had not asked the CBI officers to come to his house to show him the report. “The meeting took place only on the suggestion of law minister,” he said,admitting that he had only glanced through the report and that he should have apprised the bench about it earlier.

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