SC takes strong exception to government vetting CBI report

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) In scathing criticism of the government’s interference in the CBI probe into coal blocks allocation, the Supreme Court Tuesday asked the agency’s director to file an affidavit stating the changes made in the draft report vetted by Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.

Underlining the need to liberate the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from extraneous influences, Justices R.M. Lodha, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph said the affidavit to be filed by its director should be “candid, truthful, absolutely complete and founded on records”.

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

The court, during the course of the hearing that lasted nearly two hours, wanted to know whether the law minister had the authority to call for status reports from the investigating agencies.

“Can you tell (us) if the minister of law and justice (is) entitled to call for such a report,” Justice Lodha asked.

“If we find that the investigation has been influenced by someone who has no business or authority to do so, then the only inference is that the investigation is a farce and the entire investigation would be rendered meaningless,” he said.

“We want to know if somebody was sought to be shielded, then our reaction will be different.”

“What changes were made (in the draft report) and at whose instance these (changes) were made and what effect it has,” the unrelenting court asked Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati.

Expressing its anguish, Justice Lodha went on: ” Had we not passed the order (March 12, asking) for filing of an affidavit (by CBI), nobody would have ever known of the vetting by the political executive.

“…does it not tantamount to suppression of vital piece of information from the court?

“Was it done deliberately? Why was it done? Was it decided to suppress the vital information from the court.”

Pointing to the changed scenario since the last hearing of the case, the judge wondered “how we move on this”. “After all, there is a question mark on the independence and impartiality of the CBI.”

Observing that the investigation must be independent and uninfluenced by extraneous influence, the court said: “The … investigation process has been shaken. Entire process of investigation has not been impartial.”

The investigation should not only be impartial but must also appear to be impartial, the judges said.

“First thing we have to do is to liberate the CBI from extraneous consideration, influences and intrusions. So that henceforth the agency is not maligned that its investigation has been influenced by political bosses and for extraneous considerations,” the court said.

Taking a dig at the joint secretary in the coal ministry, the court said that despite repeated reminders by the CBI, the ministry did not furnish the information sought.

“However, what was furnished was not conforming to the information requisitioned by the CBI. On the other hand a joint secretary … desired to see the status report.”

The court reiterated its earlier observation made in the last hearing of the matter that coal blocks would be nixed if found to be allocated in breach of statutory provisions.

“We are not to open the Pandora’s box. If allocation of coal blocks was reasonable, rational, lawful and on constitutional principles, then it is alright. Otherwise consequences must follow.”

Addressing a plea by the petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan that investigation be monitored by a retired judge of superior judiciary on day to day basis, the court said it would take a call on a later day.

However, there was some cheer for the investigating agency when Justice Lodha, referring to certain paragraphs in two status reports, said “prima facie it appears that CBI is looking into the matter objectively”.

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