SC lambasts CBI, government over coal scam report
New Delhi, April 30
A three-member Bench headed by Justice RM Lodha asked the CBI Director to state as to whether any changes were made in the March 8, 2013, CBI status report on its investigations after it was shared with them at their instance and if so the extent of changes and at whose instance.
The Bench, which included Justices MB Lokur and Kurien Joseph, also wanted to know the identities of the joint secretaries in the PMO and the Coal Ministry who had sought the status report and as to whether the report was shared with any other person/s.
“If there is intrusion from various angles - left, right, above and below - how does the investigation progress independently,” the Bench asked. It clarified that CBI should not only be independent, but also seen to be independent and impartial.
“A question mark has been put on the impartiality and independence of the investigation. This has to be cleared before the CBI moves further” in the case, the Bench remarked and made it clear that its first priority now would be to “liberate” the probe agency from “extraneous influence and intrusion.”
It was strange that the Coal Ministry wanted to have a look at the CBI status report before its submission to the SC, but was not providing details to the agency as to who were screening the applications for coal blocks and their reports, the Bench said.
After the CBI had filed its status report in the court and assured through Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval that it was not shared with the political masters, the Bench had asked the CBI Director to file an affidavit to this effect.
“There was some lurking doubt somewhere that is why the order for the affidavit was issued,” Justice Lodha said.
In his affidavit, filed on April 26, the Director said the report was shared with Kumar and two joint secretaries - one each at the PMO and the Coal Ministry. He, however, chose to be silent on the changes made by them, if any.
During two hours of arguments today, the Bench indicated that it was not in favour of appointing any outside agency to monitor the CBI probe, observing that this would amount to tampering with the very sanctity of the investigation. However, it said it was not averse to asking Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to ensure that the CBI probe was fair and free from political interference.
The Bench said even if the minister, who had administrative control over the CBI, had the power to seek information regarding the progress of cases, it would not be proper to exercise it in the present case.
“Is the Law Minister entitled to call for information? Tell us after carefully going through the CBI manual and guidelines,” the Bench asked ASG Sidharth Luthra, who appeared for the agency in place of ASG Raval.
Nevertheless, the Bench remarked that despite all these developments the CBI probe seemed to objective as it had devoted four paragraphs in the latest status report to the “irregularities and illegalities” found the allocation of coal mines. The SC also asked for the service records of all CBI officials probing the coal scam in order to ensure that only those with impeccable track records were involved in the case. The case will come up for next hearing on May 8.
The Bench is hearing PILs filed by several persons pleading for quashing the allotment of 194 coal blocks allotted by the Centre to private companies during 2004-11 “in a pick and choose manner” thereby causing a “huge loss” to the country.
Among the petitioners are former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian, NGO Common Cause, former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami, ex-Union Secretaries Ramaswamy Iyer and Sushil Tripathi and Admirals (retd) RH Tahiliani and L Ramdas, who has been the Navy chief.
Fumes at ‘intrusion’