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Coal scam: Did the law minister try to influence CBI?

April 16, 2013 23:28 IST

While the BJP is baying for the resignation of Law Minister Ashwini Kumar, the Congress is worried that the issue could create serious trouble for the government, reports Renu Mittal

Pressure is building within the Congress as well as from the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to remove Union Law Minister Ashwini Kumar for his alleged attempt to influence the Central Bureau of Investigation in the coal-gate scam to ensure that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is not dragged into the scam.

Highly placed sources in the Congress have disclosed that someone close to Dr Singh has resisted any move to demand Kumar's resignation. Ashwini Kumar is known to be a personal favourite of Dr Singh and even his family.

It is learnt that with the budget session set to resume from next week, and the BJP baying for the resignation of Ashwini Kumar, the Congress leadership has been worried about reports that the government tried to influence the CBI to tone down the report on the coal scam. So much so that Ashwini Kumar was called to a core committee meeting held last week and asked to explain his meeting with the CBI chief.

A senior Congress leader admitted that it was a difficult issue which could create problems for the government, as the BJP is all set to raise it in the second half of the monsoon session.

Congress leaders say that the attempt to influence the CBI could have been done only to save the prime minister and not some bureaucrat in the Prime Ministers Office. Joint Secretary in the PMO, Shatrughan was in-charge of coal, a portfolio directly handled by the prime minister. Interestingly, Shatrughan was important during the National Democratic Alliance government and known to be close to prime minister Vajpayee, who had even sent him to Ayodhya on key missions. After the exit of the NDA, he was retained by Manmohan Singh in the PMO. 

The current CBI director, Ranjit Sinha, is also known to be close to key BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Shatrughan Sinha, who are all Bihar Kayasths and called Chitagupta samaj ke members.

There are reports that on March 5, Ashwini Kumar called the CBI director and other officials for a meeting to influence the report to be submitted to the Supreme Court on the coal scam. But with the news leaking out, a huge storm has been raised and the court now wants the CBI to state in writing that its status report was not reviewed by the political class before it was shared with the judges.

The CBI has come out with a statement that it is not under any pressure from the government even as it is preparing an affidavit for the court.

The issue has become complicated for the government with Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval telling the Supreme Court that the government had not seen the CBI’s status report on the coal scam case, whereas the report, allegedly, states that Raval was also present in the meeting between the CBI director and the law minister.

The entire episode has become a huge embarrassment for the prime minister and the Congress party since Dr Singh was directly in-charge of the coal ministry for a number of years. With regard to coal-gate the auditor said in March 2012, that the country lost Rs 1.86 lakh crore because coal fields were allocated without a transparent bidding process.

The CBI which is under attack by the Supreme Court and is being charged with acting on behalf of its political bosses has issued a statement saying, "Reports have been and are being, published/telecast in a section of the media, speculating about the nature and content of an affidavit to be filed by the CBI before the Supreme Court, in connection with the coal allocation probe. It is reiterated that the CBI is yet to file the said affidavit. The CBI will strictly abide by the directions of the Supreme Court, and is not under any pressure from any quarter.”

The agency filed a status report on March 8 with regards to its probe in the alleged irregularities in the coal allocation scam.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi