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CBI chief's revelation on coal-gate embarrasses govt

Last updated on: April 26, 2013 19:16 IST

CBI chief Ranjit SinhaThe revelation by CBI director Ranjit Sinha that the law minister and other officials had vetted a status report on coal-gate which was submitted to the SC may result in a severe grilling for Ashwani Kumar when the SC hears the case on April 30. Rakesh Bhatnagar reports.

Much to the embarrassment of an already cornered United Progressive Alliance-II government, Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha on Friday cast another spell on the Centre by stating in a two-page “status report’ on the investigations into ‘arbitrary’ allocation of coal blocks to at least 14 companies that the March 8 report had been shared with the law minister, joint secretaries in the PMO, coal and power ministries.

Though the lawsuits seeking criminal action against the persons who scandalously allotted the blocks disregarding a whopping Rs 1.86 lakh crore loss to the exchequer will be heard by Supreme Court on April 30, the government, particularly Law Minister Ashwani Kumar will have to be ready for severe grilling by the top court.

In response to an order passed by a bench of Justices R M Lodha, J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur on March 13 directing CBI to state in a status report that its March 8 report wasn’t shared with any political executive or a ministry involved in the litigation, Sinha said the present status report isn’t shared with any political executive.

He says, “The draft of the March 8, 2013 status report was shared with the law minister (Ashwani Kumar) as desired by him prior to its submission before the Supreme Court’.

The CBI chief also reveals that the draft of that status report was “also shared with joint secretary level officer each to PMO, coal and power ministries’.

However, Sinha hastens to add ‘the present status report is not shared with any political executive’’.

It’s learnt that lawyers for government and agency could offer an explanation in their defence that since there was no court’s directive to keep the government off the status report, it had been vetted by the law ministry, the legal arm of the Union government.

That no tinkering had been done with the March 8 report either by the law minister or others  is evident since it confirmed the allegations  made by various petitioners including Common Cause, M L Sharma and  a Maharashtra BJP  leader Banwari Lal Purhoit.

Purohit’s lawsuit raises the core issue: Can the Centre override provisions of Coal-Bearing Areas Act and allot virgin coal blocks to private companies?

He seeks to quash all the coal blocks allocation since 1993 on the basis of amendments to Coal Mines Nationalisation Act.

In the controversial status report that had been shared with top functionaries of the Union government, CBI had told SC that the coal block allocation during 2006-09 was done without verifying the credentials of companies which allegedly misrepresented facts about themselves.

The agency had also submitted a list of the companies and their directors against whom FIR had so far been lodged.

CBI also said it was not revealing all information of its probe in order to “preserve confidentiality and integrity of the inquiry.”

CBI’s counsel and additional solicitor general Haren Raval had also sought exemption from filing an affidavit giving the details of the investigation saying it would hamper the probe.

However Raval offered to file status reports whenever it’s asked by the court.

While directing the CBI to file the status report, the bench in March last passed an order saying:  “In the course of hearing, consensus emerged that as regards the legality and validity of allocation of coal blocks. The matter (law suits) may be heard first and the aspect concerning criminality in the action (government) may be examined later after receipt of further status reports from the CBI’’.

Common Cause’s lawyer Prashant Bhushan wants appointment of a retired apex court judge like Justice B N Agarwal (the Sahara Case) to monitor the probe as its necessary in view of CBI’s March revelation that its status report had been vetted by the government.

 “The report had been seen by the government before it was filed in this court, the same had been vetted and its observations had been diluted by the CBI at the instance of the government,” Bhushan said.

Earlier, while dealing with the 2G scam involving Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss to the exchequer, a bench led by Justice G S Singhvi had passed a directive that CBI would file its status reports in a sealed cover directly to the court.

In view of the court’s concern, CBI engaged a non-government lawyer K K Venugopal for the proceedings.

In the meanwhile, the Centre has ruled out any possibility of imparting constitutional status or autonomy to CBI or CVC.

Responding to a question whether the Centre  is contemplating to bring any proposal to provide constitutional status and autonomy to CVC and CBI,  Minister of State for Personnel, V Narayanasamy said there is “no proposal with the government to provide constitutional status to the CVC and the CBI.”

“The CVC is a statutory body and derives its powers from the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003. The CBI derives its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. Both organisations have adequate functional autonomy,” the minister replied in Parliament on December 5 last year.

Rakesh Bhatnagar