SC to clarify grey areas in its Vineet Narain judgment

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar will be walking a tightrope in the coal block allocation case as the Supreme Court is set to to interpret

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: May 1, 2013 3:02:27 am

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar will be walking a tightrope in the coal block allocation case as the Supreme Court is set to to interpret certain “grey areas” in its landmark judgment in the Vineet Narain case.

For,much of the court’s reactions in future would depend on its analysis if the Law Minister’s interference was within his power of reviewing the functioning of the CBI or he overstepped his jurisdiction by interfering with the probe.

When CBI Director Ranjit Sinha files his affidavit,detailing changes made in the agency’s status report after a meeting with the Law Minister and also explains who got these changes made,the Bench will be made aware of the exact nature of interference by Kumar.

There are two versions doing the rounds. Kumar has told party colleagues that alteration in the draft report confined to correcting grammatical mistakes but CBI sources claim that around 20 per cent of “substantial” changes were made. The trigger for further directives by the court would hence lie in the disclosure of the kinds of changes. The court would also examine whether the Law Minister could at all call for such a meeting when the probe was being monitored by the Supreme Court.

The judgment in the 1997 Vineet Narain case was authored by former CJI J S Verma in the wake of massive hawala scams. It laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI. The verdict called for transparency in the selection of the CBI Director and put the Central Vigilance Commission in superintendence over the CBI.

However,a couple of paragraphs in this judgment caught the attention of a Bench led by Justice R M Lodha on Tuesday as it held that “certain clarifications” could be required.

The verdict had endorsed the Centre’s views that “the ultimate responsibility for the functioning of these agencies to Parliament is that of the concerned minister” and he will have the power to review their working. The minister also has the power to call for information on progress of cases. Justice Verma had noted that the minister’s power to review the working of the agencies and to give broad policy directions over their functioning was not to be diluted by his verdict.

While an argument is that the minister concerned for the DoPT could also be the minister heading the Ministry of Personnel,Public Grievances and Pensions,the rule of business for the Department of Legal Affairs makes it clear that the conduct of cases in the apex court would fall in the Law Ministry’s domain. Further,filing of all matters in the Supreme Court can be done by the CBI only through the Central Agency Section — a division of the Law Ministry.

Perplexed by the ambiguity sought to be created by the minister’s power to “call for information regarding progress of cases”,the court on Tuesday said it would strive to remove all the “grey areas” left in the Vineet Narain case. Acknowledging that the government,through DoPT,exercised administrative control over the CBI,the Bench wondered if it could be construed as giving a free hand to the government to interfere with a probe.

The court emphasised on another part of the Vineet Narain judgment where it was ruled that all the powers of the minister were subjected to conditions that none would enable him to interfere with the probe and prosecution. The court opined that the authority rested with the minister in the judgment was now being “misconstrued,” affecting CBI’s independence.

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