The prime minister wasn’t comfortable with the series of events in the coal block allotment scam probe, including the uncontested detailed letter sent by Additional Solicitor General Harin P Raval (who quit on Tuesday) to Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati recalling every instance much to the embarrassment of the government, reports Rakesh Bhatnagar
Much before the Central Bureau of Investigation filed an unadulterated affidavit before the Supreme Court narrating the sequel of events that led to its sharing the status report with the political executive, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned two top law officers and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar late Tuesday evening to have a firsthand account of the events that caused tremendous damage to the dithering United Progressive Alliance-II.
“It was a half-hour meeting," an informed source has revealed. “The PM wasn’t feeling comfortable,” he added, with the series of events including the uncontested detailed letter sent by Additional Solicitor General Harin P Raval (who quit on Tuesday) to Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati recalling every instance much to the embarrassment of the government.
Besides the law minister, Vahanvati and Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran were present in the meeting.
The PM’s predicament could be assessed by the fact that every time a court hearing takes place in some scam like the 2G, the government has to lose one of its confidants and an efficient law officer.
What was the outcome of the crucial meeting? The informed source said that the law officers would contest the case in all fairness.
However, it’s interesting to note that Kumar arranged for the circulation of a brief note among a section of the media offering his story regarding the charge of vetting the coal blocks allotment scam probe status report and Raval’s letter confirming his involvement in this bizarre exercise in the presence of Vahanvati.
The minister did request changes to the CBI's report. They were "suggestions of a minor nature" and that "the CBI was always free to accept or reject any of the suggestions’’, the note said, suggesting that CBI director Ranjit Sinha could have overwritten what the law minister and the AG had written.
Whether the court would accept such a frail defence aimed at damage control on May 8 is the big question. Kumar has reportedly passed the buck to the AG telling his party that Vahanvati had called the contentious meeting at which he sought changes in the CBI's prepared status report. It was the AG who had summoned CBI chief Sinha much before the top court’s March 8 hearing -- on March 5 -- and there it was discussed whether the status report should be filed or an affidavit would suffice.
It may be recalled that it was Raval who had urged the court early this year that there was no need for filing an affidavit but a status report could be filed to apprise judges about the developments in the investigation of the Rs 1.86 lakh-crore coal block scam.
Even if one may accept Kumar’s plea for innocence, his expression undoubtedly gives credence to the grave charge made by Raval and the serious concerns expressed by the top court on the conduct of the CBI, the law minister and the AG.
It is also learnt that the law minister has told the party leadership that being the government's legal advisor, he is required to liaise with the CBI and that when he met the CBI chief to discuss the report there was no instruction from the Supreme Court prohibiting the agency from sharing the status report with the political executive.
But, he refrained from informing party-men that it was the AG Vahanvati who had given an assurance to the court that the status report wouldn’t be shared with the political executive or law officer, including him or the SG.
In the meanwhile, another eminent senior law officer Gopal Subramanium, who had to resign as solicitor general in the midst of the 2G spectrum scam case hearing in 2011, revealed: "I quit because I was asked to toe the line. They wanted me to be pliant."
“Any government that says an AG or SG is a puppet, I ask it to read the Constitution,” he added.
Surprisingly, in both these cases comparatively small fries had to go as the people at the helm of affairs masterminding and manipulating the interests of government and court continue to call the shots.
In another development, the coal ministry also got worked up with the deep anguish expressed by a bench of Justices R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph over the laxity in the coal blocks scandal probe.
The ministry, though belatedly, has handed over about 730 files to the CBI for the probe in the blocks allotment scam.
On Tuesday, judges had slammed the coal ministry too over its non-cooperation with the CBI in the mega scam probe by not giving crucial documents.
The coal ministry may get its quota of reprimand on May 8 too when it tells the court that at least 25 out of 28 files were not traceable. They were related to the period when the National Democratic Alliance was in power in 2004, it’s learnt.