The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought to disapprove the government's stand that the Central Bureau of Investigation needs its permission to question senior officials in the Coalgate case.
The apex court questioned the government for bringing into operation Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act which requires such approval of the government to proceed against senior bureaucrats in the case which is monitored by it.
A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha directed the CBI that Deputy Inspector General rank officer Ravi Kant Mishra, who was recalled to the agency on its order, will head the team probing the allocationof coal blocks during 2006-09 while other two DIGs -- Amit Kumar and B Murgusen -- will look the allocation done from 1995 to 2005 and those made under government dispensation respectively.
While allowing the CBI's plea to modify the May 8 order for expanding the probe team from 33 to 36 members, the bench also permitted it to remove tainted Superintendent of Police Vivek Dutt from the investigations of the case.
The agency told the court there was impediment when it has to interrogate senior officers in the rank of joint secretary as it has to follow the route of section 6A.
"On principle of law when there is a court directed and monitored investigation as in this case, can at all Sec 6A be allowed to operate. Section 6A operates in ordinary course of investigation when the CBI has to seek Government approval. But in sub-judice matter, the court is looking into the aspect of probe. Ordinary in such matters which are looked by the court, the permission must and should (to interrogate) follow as a natural course," the bench said.
However, Attorney General G E Vahanvati said the process under Sec 6A cannot be exercised arbitrarily and reasons must be given for rejection, which is open to judicial review.
At this point, the bench, also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph, noted that the Government had first refused permission to the CBI to question former coal secretary H C Gupta and later, on May 23 gave the nod.
"Why if that was the case, there was hesitation at first on approval for interrogatiion of former secretary, coal. Why at all this thing should happen. Therefore, we are on principle," the bench said, adding, "The government cannot arbitrarily refuse permission to investigate senior officials".
The AG said he was not aware "why it was not granted (permission) at first instance, but it was corrected later".
The court wanted to know from the Centre whether it is necessary to take government's sanction to investigate senior officers when the course of inquiry is monitored by the court.
"In such a case of largescale nature where names of various persons are cropping up, names of political executives are cropping up ... does CBI need to apply for permission under section 6A," the bench said.
Vahanvati said when there are material against an officer alleged to have committed offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act there is a need to take the course of section 6A for permission to question him.
He said even when the permission is denied it is open to judicial review. The bench then told the AG as to "why there is serious objection in your thought in the court directed matter".
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the non-governmental organisation Common Cause, opposed the AG's submission, saying there was no need for permission to question the officer in the court-monitored case.
The issue of approval to question bureaucrats was also raised by newly-appopinted CBI's special counsel Amarendra Sharan who said the agency, which wants to interrogate one more officer of the rank of Joint Secretary, has to go up and seek the permission.
However, the bench said this could not be the case and cited the May 23 order when the Government permitted the CBI to question the former coal secretary. It reminded the agency that even on getting the permission to quiz any person, the CBI is prohibited from sharing its information.
"We are seriously concerned if there is any extraneous influence in the matter of investigation," the bench said while observing the credibility of probe should not go.
"Therefore, it has to be ensured that the case and the prosecution do not suffer from any lacunae," the bench said.
The bench also asked the agency not to take shelter under Sec 6A making it clear that "if there is any obstruction or impediment in thorough investigation you can come to the court. It is with you".
"Lot of effort has been put. No stone should be left unturned to find the truth," the bench said and asked the CBI to come to the court with stage-specific issues such as completing its work step by step.
Sharan told the bench that investigation in some cases on coal block allocations was nearing completion and the charge sheets would be filed soon.
He said that the CBI will place the documents and names of the lawyers to represent it in the trial court in a sealed cover. At this point, the bench said "whosoever is guilty must be brought to justice. Investigation has to be brought to logical end".