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Surprise! Why is AG Vahanvati still in denial mode?

Last updated on: April 30, 2013 17:16 IST

Vahanvati's clear stand in court on Tuesday that he has not seen the draft copy of the CBI status report on the coal scam investigation means that there is some design behind his stand? The next stage of the drama will unfold when the CBI will file its version before the apex court on May 6. Sheela Bhatt reports.

In the court number 4 of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Attorney General G E Vahanvati said before a three-judge bench headed by Justice R M Lodha hearing the coal mines allocation case, that, “I have not seen the draft copy of the status report of the CBI (on investigation of coal mines.)”

Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer and petitioner against the government’s allotment of coal mines, said sarcastically, “Oh, I see!”

Mediapersons, young and old lawyers and onlookers present in court laughed loudly.

The sound of ridicule could not have escaped Vahnavati.

After the court hearing when tried to take his reaction, Vahanvati looked completely shaken. He looked crushed under the burden of the moment. When asked, “What next?” He said, “The court has said many times what the CBI should do.” Vahanvati, a soft-spoken lawyer, could not speak further and changed his position to avoid any questioning.

After looking blank for some moments, he took the elevator to avoid the stares of the fellow lawyers.

In spite of his deputy Harin Rawal’s letter giving minute details of his active participation in crucial meetings where Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and CBI officers were present, Vahanavati insists, to the surprise of many, that he has not seen the draft report.

The CBI has, in a first-of-its kind submission, admitted that the draft report was vetted by the government. The CBI’s affidavit filed on April 26 didn’t give enough details like names of the government officers, venue, time etc. The court has demanded many such details on affidavit on Tuesday. 

If the leaked letter of Rawal is genuine, then it's severely damaging for Vahanvati.

Two paras are so revealing and it's surprising to see that the United Progressive Alliance government is still holding firm and no heads are rolling.

Rawal says in his letter, “I am to further request you to recall your memory that I was asked to attend a meeting in your presence with the honorable law minister to consider whether the CBI should disclose the status of investigation on an affidavit in compliance of the order dated January 24 or should a status report be filed. The meeting was attended by you sir, besides director, CBI and Jt Director O P Galhotra amongst others. You will recall that I had reiterated my position namely that the statement made and recorded in the order dated January 24 to make known to the court the status of investigation through an affidavit of a competent officer was made not only after due consideration and discussion held with me by the CBI officials on January 23 prior to the hearing, but also on instruction received by me from them as well as instruction reiterated to me in the court. Having reiterated my stand, I was a silent spectator when a decision was taken to file a status report instead of an affidavit which was to be shown to you as was decided in the meeting."

Rawal insists that Vahanvati was present and also reveals the difference of opinion between him and Vahanvati.

Rawal probably suggests that status report could not have been vetted by the government as it's solely an issue between the Supreme Court and the CBI but if only an affidavit was filed it could have been seen by concerned people as affidavits are a more open document.

To fix Vahanvati further, Rawal states, "You will also kindly recall that on March 6, 2013 while I was in court, I received a message from your end, asking me to see the law minister at 12.30 pm with the status report. The message received by me was forwarded to the Jt Director, CBI by me. You were also present when I reached slightly late. You would also kindly recall at the said meeting during the course of discussion the draft of only one of the status reports of one of the preliminary enquiries was shown to the honorable law minister and was perused by him as well as by you.

“Certain suggestions were made, including by you, to the CBI, some of which were accepted. No suggestion emanated from me. You will kindly further recall that you wanted to leave to attend court for a mentioning matter, other status reports of the investigation of nine regular cases were requested by you to be shown to you in the evening at about 4.30 pm. I was also asked to be present at your residential office. After you left, I left shortly thereafter and I also had to attend a mentioning matter at 2 pm. In compliance of the above, the CBI officials brought the drafts which were perused and settled by you sir. I was present in your residential office."

Both these paras clearly states that Vahanvati was in loop.

After receiving the letter, which Vahanvati has confirmed Monday, neither him not Rawal has resigned at time of filing of this report.

The only charitable explanation of Vahanvati’s assertion could be that when, in the controversial meeting, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar was asking CBI officers to add or delete certain things, when CBI officers were taking dictation from the minister or sharing their stand with officers belonging to the coal ministry, law ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office, Vahanvati had remained oblivious of the conversation in the room.

Now possibly he is taking resort to the technical fact that the status report that was discussed in those meetings, as Rawal has described well in the letter, was not seen or touched by Vahanavati. In fact, a lawyer close to Vahanvati told, “Vahanvati is telling the truth. He has not been handling CBI matters. It’s Rawal who appeared for the CBI. The draft report was not seen by Vahanvati is a correct statement because the copy of it was in hands of Ashwani Kumar!”

The court has asked the CBI pertinent questions to say on oath that on March 12 why the CBI didn't say that its status report was shared with the government? It wants names and other details of the meetings when the status report was shared with law minister and two joint secretaries.

What kinds of changes made in the CBI status report? What is legal provision about sharing such reports? Who suggested changes and which changes were made in final report?

Vahanvati's clear stand in court on Tuesday means that there is some design behind his stand?

Let us wait for the CBI to file its version of the meeting on May 6.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi