NEW DELHI: In what could spell fresh political worry for the UPA, CBI director Ranjit Kumar Sinha has refused to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court on April 26 to support government’s claim that law minister Ashwini Kumar did not vet the report which the agency submitted to the apex court on the status of its investigation into the Coalgate scam.
Sources said that CBI chief has been resisting the suggestion that he should deny that he was called to the law ministry to discuss the contents of the status report. He has decided not to commit perjury, sources said.
‘Report is classified’
On March 12, the government, when asked by a bench of Justices RM Lodha, J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur, had asserted that the CBI did not share the contents of the status report with the political leadership. “It is meant for the eyes of the Judges only and that the report is a classified document only for apprising the court about the progress in the probe,” additional solicitor general (ASG) Harin Raval had asserted as he tried to assuage court’s apprehension about political interference with investigation into one of the biggest scams.
However, the bench decided to ask the CBI director to file a personal affidavit stating that he alone had prepared the coal scam investigation status report, did not share its contents with the government, and that he would follow the practice in future as well.
Sources said that figures in the government have leaned on the CBI chief to harmonize his April 26 affidavit with its stand articulated by ASJ Rawal, but without success so far. Sinha does not wish to lie to the court on oath and attract penalty for perjury.
When contacted by TOI on Saturday, Sinha refused to confirm or deny whether the contents of the status report were changed at the law ministry’s instance. “We have not filed the affidavit yet and so I cannot tell its contents and if changes (in the status report) were made or not. We will file it on April 26. It is a very sensitive issue”.
CBI spokesperson said that the agency will “strictly comply with court orders”.
The twist in the Coalgate scam can cause trouble for the government by bringing back the odour of corruption under UPA and by giving the opposition another handle. On Saturday, opposition feasted on the news that the law ministry had “summoned” the CBI chief for drafting the status report.
Allegations of large-scale bribery in the allocation of coal blocks are of concern to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in particular as he had held the charge of the ministry during a period when some of the controversial allocations were made. He also approved of the decision to set up the screening committee which was allegedly used to favour individuals and business groups in the allocation of coal deposits.
Congress circles are perturbed that the law minister chose to be involved in the drafting of the status report on Coalgate. “He should have kept a distance,” said a senior government functionary of the minister who is widely seen as the prime minister’s choice for the law portfolio.
On March 12, Justices Lodha, Chelameswar and Lokur had after examining the fresh probe status report submitted by the CBI had told attorney general (AG) GE Vahanvati that the agency’s preliminary findings appeared to contradict the Union government’s stand that norms were uniformly applied in allocation of coal blocks.
After Raval drew court’s attention to certain paragraphs in the status report, the bench told AG, “You say the government applied the norms were uniformly in allocating the coal blocks. However, the CBI has found no rationale in the allotments. The CBI has also found that there was no mechanism to verify the claims made by applicant companies about their financial strength and capabilities. Some companies even got coal blocks by misrepresenting their financial strength and capabilities.”
The AG appeared to be stumped and said he would file a comprehensive affidavit meeting the preliminary findings of the CBI. However, the bench appeared to have some apprehension about the way the status report was drafted and asked Raval whether it was vetted by the CBI director. The ASG said “yes”.
The court followed it up with another question, “Are you sharing the information given in the status report with the political executive?” Raval promptly said, “No. This is meant for the eyes of the Judges only. It is a classified document meant only for the Supreme Court.”
When a law officer gives such a solemn assurance, there never was an occasion earlier where the court had asked for its verification. However, the bench appeared to have some reservation over the ASG’s confident statement and though of verifying it indirectly.
It asked the CBI director to file an affidavit by April 26 stating that “whatever investigation is being done (in the coal scam matter) is not shared with political executive.” Posting the matter for hearing on April 30, the bench also asked the CBI director to also promise in the affidavit that in future too the investigation reports would be insulated from political interference.