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Lawless minister

This attempt to influence the CBI should cost Ashwani Kumar his job,no matter how the court weighs in

This attempt to influence the CBI should cost Ashwani Kumar his job,no matter how the court weighs in

After the Supreme Court pressed the CBI,the agency has admitted that its confidential report on coal block allotment had been seen by Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar in the draft stage. This comes as confirmation of a serious breach of procedure,one that should compel the UPA to take action without waiting for the court’s censure. The differences in the draft and final report must also be laid out for public view.

The CBI was investigating allegedly shoddy coal block allocation processes in UPA 1’s tenure. The fact that the investigating agency had to send its report for vetting by three authorities — the law minister,and civil servants in the coal ministry and the prime minister’s office — is a damning statement on this government. This despite the Supreme Court having made it clear that the report was meant only for the court’s scrutiny. Ashwani Kumar’s motives,as well as those of the officials in the PMO and coal ministry,bear a separate investigation. But this episode has confirmed the cynical view of the CBI’s autonomy. Successive governments have used India’s premier investigating agency as a crude instrument to conceal what they want and go after political adversaries. The Congress bears much of the responsibility for wrecking the institution’s independence over the decades. Whether it was the unusual leniency shown to Ottavio Quattrocchi or the determined probes,at opportune political moments,against Mayawati,Mulayam Singh Yadav or Jaganmohan Reddy,the CBI has appeared to shape and shift its investigations according to the equation between the accused and the political dispensation at the Centre. The NDA,too,made no attempt to break from this syndrome. When any finding can be dismissed as motivated or partisan,it becomes difficult to trust any investigation,sapping the authority of the state.

In the Supreme Court’s 1997 hawala judgment,the late Justice J.S. Verma had tried to lay down the lines,by emphasising that the government’s statutory power of “superintendence” did not stretch to regulating investigations in any manner. For the agency to be truly insulated,the court suggested that its highest officials refuse any post-retirement benefits and honours from the government,a principle that has been repeatedly flouted. In the most recent instance,a former CBI director was appointed governor of Nagaland last month. Ashwani Kumar’s action confirms the government’s tight grip on the CBI — and the CBI’s abject capitulation. After all,it was within its powers to refuse the law minister and others.

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