‘Your action has caused total erosion of trust’ Supreme Court (SC) to the CBI. After the SC wound up the proceedings, the CBI and its political bosses were completely exposed, and the Government’s cover up exercise was dismissed with disgust by the Opposition in and outside Parliament…
For 90 minutes, while the Supreme Court (SC) heard the tale of lies and deception of the CBI and its officers in the coal scam, the UPA’s bigwigs were on razor’s edge. After the SC wound up the proceedings, the CBI and its political bosses were completely exposed, and the Government’s cover up exercise was dismissed with disgust by the Opposition in and outside Parliament.
In a major indictment of the CBI, the SC expressed a lack of faith in the agency , saying: “ Your action has caused total erosion of trust placed by the court.” The SC was reacting to the CBI’s admission that the Union Law Minister, PMO officials and Coal Ministry made changes to the status report before the CBI submitted it to the apex court in a sealed cover.
The bench, headed by Justice RM Lodha said: “With all the events happening over the days, a question mark is put on the independent and impartial investigation being conducted by the CBI. Decks have to be cleared before we move forward.” The SC posed six questions to the CBI and asked it to file an affidavit. Assured on March 12 by the CBI that its previous status report was not shared with the political executive, the bench, also comprising Justices Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph, asked the CBI why it was “kept in the dark” about this fact when the matter was heard on March 12.
“This suppression is not ordinary. If deliberate, for what reason was the decision made not to disclose it to the court,” the SC asked the agency.
Directing an affidavit to be filed on this aspect by Monday, the bench also wished to know how an “emphatic assertion” was made by CBI counsel Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval (who later submitted his resignation, protesting against his ‘bosses’ ) on the last hearing that the said report was not shared with anybody. “Does it not show total erosion of trust this court has placed in you,” the bench asked senior advocate UU Lalit, who replaced Raval for the CBI.
Reminding the agency about the SC’s decision in the Vineet Narain case (1997) which created the CBI as an independent, impartial probe agency, though under the administrative control of the Centre, the SC said: “It is not that you move on the crutches of your executive masters. As the premier investigative agency, your action must enhance your impartiality and credibility.” Commenting on the April 26 affidavit by the CBI Director which candidly stated that the status report filed in court was shared with the Law Minister, Joint Secretary in the PMO and Coal Ministry as desired by them, the bench said: “Maybe somebody desires something. But as the premier investigating agency, you are the master of investigation. You, in no way have to obey your political masters.”
By doing so, the SC noted: “The very foundation of the investigation process has been shaken.” It asked the CBI chief to incorporate in his next affidavit the extent of changes made to the draft status report, at whose instance the changes were made and what effect it had on the investigation. The matter will be heard next on May 8.
Even the Coal Ministry’s non-cooperation with the CBI probe attracted the court’s criticism. Quoting from the latest status report of the agency, the bench said: “It is a very serious matter, that certain information sought by the CBI on whether the applications for the coal blocks were checked before being sent to the administrative Ministry, have still not been answered.”
Asking the AG to seek instructions by next date, the bench added: “On one hand your Joint Secretary seeks to see the draft report and on the other hand he does not provide information sought by the CBI…There cannot be this game of hide and seek.”
The court was also livid at the manner in which the Law Minister interfered with the investigation by brazenly making changes to a report being submitted to the court.
“Is the Law Minister entitled to call for such a report from you (CBI) or even an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary level,” the bench asked CBI in the light of what its Manual and Rules of Business stated.
Asking to furnish names of the two Joint Secretaries who tweaked the report, the bench said: “If we find that the investigation was influenced by a person who had no business to do that, then the entire investigation will be rendered meaningless.”
On request of advocate Prashant Bhushan who represented NGO Common Cause, one of the PIL petitioners in court, the SC directed the agency to state “whether besides the three persons mentioned in paragraph four of the affidavit, the draft report was shared with any other persons.” When Bhushan dropped hints that the changes made to the status report were to shield three companies from the scope of investigation, the bench said: “If we find that somebody is being shielded, our reaction will be very different.”
To insulate the agency from any future “extraneous” influences, the bench asked the agency to submit the service details and qualifications of the DIG monitoring the coal scam probe along with that of two Superintendents of Police and an Additional SP constituting the investigation team. “We want to ensure they are of impeccable integrity,” the SC said. It may also consider passing an order on the next date to retain the said team till investigations in the 10 FIRs are completed.
– Inputs from the Pioneer
Key, Decisive Questions By The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court told the CBI to file a fresh affidavit answering the following questions.
- Why was it not disclosed that the March 8 report was shared with the Government?
- Why on March 12 a very emphatic assertion was made by the CBI Counsel that this report was not shared?
- Besides the Law Minister and two Joint Secretaries, was the report shared with anybody else?
- Were any changes made in the CBI status report?
- At whose instance were the changes made and what is the effect of changes?
- Is the Law Minister entitled to call for such a report?
- Does it not show erosion of the trust that the court has shown in CBI?