An upright additional Solicitor General Haren P Raval has been made a casualty over the coal allocation report. Raval resigned on Tuesday hours after top functionaries of the Union government -- Prime minister’s office, law minister, joint secretaries for coal and power ministries besides the CBI -- were virtually ‘hauled over the coals’ by the Supreme Court amid grave lapses by the coal blocks allotment scam investigating agency in sharing the vital information required for the top court.
Additional Solicitor General Raval’s startling revelation affirming that Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and two joint secretaries with the PMO had deliberations with CBI chief Ranjit Sinha on the status report for March 12, set the tone for the court’s hour-and-a-half proceedings on Tuesday.
Raval was a silent spectator at the meeting held at Kumar’s office while Vahanvati and Kumar suggested alterations in the status report that the CBI had filed before the court.
On April 26, the CBI accepted that the status report was shared with the political executive even though the AG had earlier made a conflicting statement that though he didn’t see the report, it contained very sensitive information. Raval spilled the beans and he had to resign.
Exasperated over the CBI’s flip-flop regarding sharing information with the unwanted political executive, the court questioned the agency for concealing this fact and observed that this mutual sharing of confidential report has “shaken the entire process.”
“There’s a total erosion of faith” in the premier agency, the court said, asking Sinha to submit an affidavit on Monday disclosing the names and past record of all the officers who are involved in the investigation of the Rs 1.86 lakh crore coal block allotment scam that took place when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the coal minister. The PMO controls the CBI too.
"Why was the apex court kept in the dark about the sharing of probe report with the government?" a bench of Justices R M Lodha, Kurien Joseph and Madan B Lokur asked, slamming the CBI.
The bench said it will hear on May 8 a batch of PILs seeking a probe into the unprecedented scam by a special investigating team, cancellation of arbitrary allotment to consumer power companies and also to those who were only close to the power that be, and criminal action against all those have plundered the natural resource and looted the exchequer.
Expressing its anguish at the goings-on in the probe, it said, "This suppression (of facts) by the CBI is not ordinary. CBI should not be influenced by its masters and its independent position must be restored.”
Fixing another nail in the shattered game plan to conceal vital information from the court, the judges said the sharing of information regarding the status report could be due to “someone wants a favour.”
"Our first exercise will be to liberate the CBI from political interference. You don't need to take instructions from political masters,” the judges told the CBI, which was represented by U U Lalit, also appearing for it in the 2G spectrum allocation scam cases.
Though Raval was conspicuous by his absence, Vahanvati held the fort as if his junior law officer’s letter to him was of no consequence. He also shared his concern with the court and remarked that “it should not happen.”
On the other hand, CBI’s Sinha said that he’s not embarrassed by the developments in the court. “I am a part of the government. Why should I feel embarrassed?” he said adding, “I will file the affidavit on schedule”.
A senior Gujarat lawyer Haren Raval is not only known for his legal acumen and credibility but he had a small stint in politics too. He had contested the 1998 assembly elections on a Congress ticket from Ellisbridge constituency in Ahmedabad but lost to Haren Pandya.
Last week, CBI director Ranjit Sinha admitted in writing to the court that his agency's report had been vetted by the coal ministry, Prime Minister's Office and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar. The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Sinha to file a new "candid and truthful" affidavit. It also wants to know what changes were requested by the law minister, and whether these were incorporated. "Look into the CBI manual carefully," the judges said, asking for details on how the agency decides who is eligible to access the details of its ongoing investigations.
"Our first exercise will be to liberate the CBI from political interference," the judges said nixing the government's arguments that the law minister is entitled to consultations with the CBI on legal matters.
In its detailed and well documented letter to AG Vahanvati, Raval seeks to remind Vahanvati of various developments inside and outside the court. It says, “The trigger point of this letter is the remark made by you to me, on Friday 26th April, 2013, inside the gentleman's cloak room of the second floor, when you asked me, "Haren, why are you angry with me" and I politely replied to you. You further remarked that "You did not contradict me in court". Sir, you are aware that on the contrary, the truth is otherwise. It was I who did not contradict you in the court.
He also made Vahanvati recall that he (AG) was present even for mentioning on March 8, 2013, when permission was sought for filing status report in a sealed cover instead of filing of an affidavit as per my statement recorded in the order dated 24 January, 2013.
During the course of hearing when you are called upon to respond to certain paragraphs of the status report as regards the decision of government and the screening committee in the matter of allocation of coal blocks, you (AG) not only exhibited ignorance of facts stated in the status report which you had earlier perused, but had made a statement that what is stated in the status report was not to your knowledge and the same was not shared with the government.
Raval’s letter says, “In fact, during the course of hearing, I was also called upon to show you those relevant paragraphs from the copy of status report that was made available to me during the course of hearing by the CBI officials instructing me in the matter. The same was shown to you in the court.”
He also seeks to set the record straight saying, “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 order dated 24 January or should a status report be filed.’’
“The meeting was attended by you sir (AG), besides director CBI and Jt Director OP Galhotra amongst others. You will recall that I had reiterated my position namely that the statement made and recorded in the order dated 24 January 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 CBI officials on 23 January, 2013 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,” Raval says in the uncontested letter.
Later on 6th March, 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,” he adds.
“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 enquiry 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 report of the investigation of 9 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,” Raval says much to the chagrin of the government and AG.
During the mentioning of the mater on March 8, Raval reminds AG that “it was submitted by you that, the status report contains much more details than what could be known to the court by an affidavit to be filed in compliance of order dated 24 January.
Despite the above facts while replying to the queries on 12 March as to what was contained in the status report, you had deemed it appropriate to take a stand that the contents of the status report were not known to you, which fact you knew to be incorrect.”
“On account of your statement, I felt embarrassed and was forced to take a stand in the court consistent with your submission made as attorney general for India that the contents of the status report were not known to you and that they were not shared with the government,” Raval adds.
“It has constantly pained and anguished me that I have to face unnecessary indignation on account of your intolerant temperament towards conscientious discharge of duties especially in high profile cases. I have held you in high esteem as leader of our team but your flip flop attitude towards me has always put me under unnecessary pressure,” says Raval.
Image: Haren Raval