‘Very disturbed,trust eroded’: SC hauls CBI over the coals

Hearing: Bench says will insulate,liberate agency from outside pressure

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: May 1, 2013 3:14:41 am

Lashing out at the intrusion by the CBI’s political bosses in the coal blocks allotment probe,the Supreme Court Tuesday questioned the investigating agency what entitled Law Minister Ashwani Kumar to go through the investigation report before it was submitted in court and how the changes made after his intervention impacted the report.

A bench led by Justice R M Lodha asked CBI director Ranjit Sinha to file a personal affidavit,explaining the reasons for not admitting at the last hearing that the draft of the status report had been shared with the minister and a joint secretary each from the PMO and the coal ministry.

While the CBI had in the court denied that the first status report had been shared with the political executive,Sinha admitted in his affidavit of April 26 that the report was shared with the law minister and the joint secretaries,as desired by them.

Noting that the latest status report by the CBI did not highlight the changes made after the extraneous interference,the court asked Sinha to answer why such details had not been included and asked him for information by Monday on who got the agency to make changes in the draft report and the extent of such changes.

Castigating the CBI for “total erosion of its trust”,the bench also demanded to know the names of all persons with whom the report had been shared,besides the names of the two joint secretaries.

The query was formed after Attorney General G E Vahanvati denied he had seen the draft report till date whereas lawyer Prashant Bhushan,appearing for one of the petitioners,cited media reports on the presence of others,including the AG,in the meeting called by the law minister.

While framing six questions for the CBI director,the bench said it was “very disturbed” and asked for an explanation on the procedure to be followed by the CBI in sharing the status reports where continuous investigation reports were being called for by the court.

“Why was there not a disclosure of this vital aspect? When matter came up for hearing on March 12,an emphatic assertion was made by the CBI through an additional solicitor general that nothing in the report was shared with political executives. The court had been kept in the dark about what happened before the first status report was submitted,” it said as it scheduled the next hearing for May 8.

Due to the “lurking doubts,” the court said,it had sought an affidavit from Sinha on whether the status reports were being shared. It said that the entire foundation of the CBI’s probe was “shaking” in the wake of recent developments and that the agency was not supposed to agree on everything that its masters and political bosses asked for.

“If we find that the investigation is influenced by someone who had no business or authority to do that,the necessary inference is that the entire investigation is a farce and a new course will have to be adopted. Let us see what the draft report was and how was it changed. If it was changed to shield or protect some persons,the investigation will be rendered meaningless and reaction of the court will be very different,” it cautioned.

The bench,underlining that the prime task before it was now to ensure that the CBI was insulated and liberated from such “extraneous influences and interferences,” asked if such an intrusion into investigation was permissible under any statute,rules or guidelines of the CBI even after the Vineet Narain judgment in 1997 in which the SC made it clear that the executive could not interfere investigations.

“You move with the crutches of the government. This intrusion has shaken the entire investigation. If we know there are extraneous considerations and intrusions from all corners,how can the investigation progress fairly? We want to know if this suppression was deliberate. Inertia with the CBI will have to be removed,” the bench said and asked the CBI to also adduce details of its officers concerned with the probe.

The bench made it clear to the CBI that any further statements by the agency “must be candid and truthful” and that the court will pass necessary orders after submissions by the agency.

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