In fresh trouble for former Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha, the Supreme Court on Monday constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the allegations of “abuse of authority” prima facie committed by him to scuttle investigation and enquiries in coal block allocation cases.
A bench, comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri, observed that a prima facie case has “definitely” been made out for probe into the abuse of authority by Sinha.
The apex court said the present CBI director would head the special investigation team which would look into the report of the apex court-appointed panel headed by M L Sharma, a former special director of the agency, that had prima facie indicted Sinha in the matter.
“We have considered the issue whether an outside body of investigators should be appointed as the special investigating team,” the bench said in its four-page order.
“However, in our considered opinion, since there has been a change of guard in the CBI, we would continue to repose our faith in the impartiality of the CBI to look into the report prepared by M L Sharma and other relevant documents and conduct an investigation (as an SIT) into the abuse of authority prima facie committed by Ranjit Sinha with a view to scuttle enquiries, investigations and prosecutions being carried out by CBI in coal block allocation cases,” it said.
However, the apex court made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of allegations levelled by the petitioner or on the contents of the report prepared by the Sharma panel.
“We make it clear that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits of the allegations made by the petitioner or make any comment on the contents of the report prepared by M L Sharma and his team, except to say that a prima facie case has definitely been made out for investigation into the abuse of authority by Ranjit Sinha in terms of the report,” it said.
The apex court said the CBI director may take assistance of two officers of the agency after duly intimating the court and also take the chief vigilance commissioner into confidence in respect of the investigations.
The bench said that the special public prosecutor for coal scam cases, senior advocate R S Cheema, would assist the CBI director and his team on legal issues related to the matter.
“The SIT led by the director, CBI may take the assistance of two officers of the CBI nominated by the director with due intimation to this court. The director, CBI will also take the chief vigilance commissioner into confidence in respect of the investigations,” it said.
The bench said “Since the director, CBI will undoubtedly require the assistance of somebody well conversant with the law, we request R S Cheema, who is already a special public prosecutor in coal block allocation cases, to assist the director, CBI and his team on legal issues”.
The apex court also said the CBI director would indicate on the next date of hearing about the composition of his team and the time required to complete the investigation.
“We need hardly emphasise that the matter is of considerable public importance and should be taken up with due earnestness by the Director, CBI,” it said.
While referring to its May 14, 2015 order, the bench noted “we had held that it was completely inappropriate for Ranjit Sinha (then Director of the CBI) to have met persons accused in the coal block allocation cases without the investigating officer being present or without the investigating team being present”.
“We were also of opinion that in view of this, it would be necessary to enquire whether any one or more such meetings that Sinha had with the accused persons had any impact on the investigations and subsequent charge–sheets or closure reports filed by the CBI,” the bench noted in the order.
During the pendency of proceedings, the court had also appointed a committee headed by M L Sharma and former central information commissioner to look into the allegations and Sharma had submitted a report on March 4 last year, it said.
The court had on July 12 last year reserved the order on the issue after Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that the panel headed by Sharma has held that Sinha’s meetings with some high-profile accused in the case, prima facie indicated that there was an attempt to influence the probe.
Rohtagi, who had only received an initial report of the panel for perusal on condition of confidentiality, had said he had gone through the report which has found that the visitors’ diary at Sinha’s residence was genuine.
However, he had said the correctness of entries in that diary could only be ascertained in the court through evidence.
The panel was probing the alleged scuttling of probe into coal block allocation scam cases by Sinha, whose meetings with the accused persons were held as “completely inappropriate”.
Earlier, the court had given the initial report of the Sharma committee to the attorney general for his perusal, as the bench wanted his assistance after the panel had sought a direction for supply of documents relating to a preliminary enquiry into some matters in which the probe was closed.
On December 7, 2015, the court had ordered handing over the original visitors’ diary of the official residence of the former CBI director to the Sharma-led panel.