Government battles crisis after court slap over coal mess

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) UPA II battled a crisis Tuesday after the Supreme Court censured the Manmohan Singh government for meddling in the CBI investigation into coal block allocations, setting the stage for more paralysing fireworks in parliament.

And on a day Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal resigned after taking on Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, anguished Supreme Court judges demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be “liberated” from “extraneous consideration, influences and intrusions”.

The court ruling followed CBI director Ranjit Sinha’s admission that his agency had shared the status report on the coal block allocations probe with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and an official of the Prime Minister’s Office.

On Tuesday, Sinha added to the mess by admitting what critics and activists have been alleging for long: that the CBI was not an “independent organisation” and that he was “part of the government”.

With general elections due next year amid speculation that it could be held earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declared that it would not attend any meeting of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.

Congress sources admitted that it was becoming politically untenable to defend the law minister but underlined no action would be taken in haste.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha came out with a trenchant criticism of the government for interfering in the CBI’s probe into coal blocks allocations. It asked the agency to file an affidavit stating the changes made in the report vetted by Minister Ashwani Kumar.

Judges Lodha, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph said the affidavit to be filed by the CBI director should be “candid, truthful, absolutely complete and founded on records”.

Noting that its trust in the agency has been breached, the judges observed: “We believed you and trusted you… this is how the draft report was changed… the court was kept in dark.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who watched without expression a war of words on the issue between opposition and treasury benches in the Lok Sabha, said later: “We are studying the Supreme Court observation and we will take appropriate action.”

The opposition sharpened its knives.

The BJP called the UPA II government the most corrupt since India’s Independence and said Manmohan Singh could not escape accountability for the overall mess.

“Each passing day reinforces that the prime minister is not coming out clean before the apex court… He cannot escape accountability,” said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“It is a situation of total breakdown but the government is responsible, not me,” BJP’s Sushma Swaraj said, adding that the “countdown” for the government’s fall has begun.

To add to the government’s discomfiture, Additional Solicitor General Rawal resigned, a day after he accused Attorney General Vahanvati of influencing the CBI probe into irregularities in the allotment of coal blocks.

“You know that I don’t speak on such matters,” Raval told IANS.

The UPA II government has found itself in a growing morass of allegations of corruption over allocations in 2G spectrum and now coal.

The latest crisis erupted last week when the CBI told the Supreme Court that it shared its March 8 status report on investigations with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and a senior bureaucrat in the PMO.

Parliament has remained paralysed since April 22, when it reconvened for the second half of the budget session after a month-long recess. On Tuesday, it was again adjourned for the day after aggressive MPs from both sides took on one another.

India’s official auditor had last year revealed that the lack of transparency in the allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in the loss of $37 billion as on March 11, 2011. The report does not directly indict the prime minister or his office.

But during the time these mining blocks were allotted, the coal portfolio was held by Manmohan Singh (between July 2004 and May 2009).

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