Coalgate: CBI should be liberated from political interference, says SC
New Delhi: In a damning indictment, the Supreme Court Tuesday said CBI's act of sharing the status report on Coalgate with the government has "shaken" the entire investigation process and vowed to "liberate" the agency from political influence and interference.
Notwithstanding some strong words, the Supreme Court's observations and directions in the coal blocks allocation scam came as a breather for the beleaguered government as the CBI Director has been given time till May six to file a fresh affidavit in the case. The matter will come up for hearing on May eight.
At the end of a two-hour hearing, the court sought a series of clarifications from CBI Director Ranjit Sinha "as to why in the status report dated March 8, 2013, no disclosure was made to the court that the draft report has been shared with the political executive".
It also wanted to how Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval had made an assertive statement on March 12 that the status report was not shared with anyone.
The bench headed by justice R M Lodha also asked why in the April 26 affidavit the CBI did not give details about changes made in the draft report and at whose instance besides Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and two senior officials of PMO and Coal ministry.
At the outset, the bench also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph said the CBI Director's affidavit has brought out a "very disturbing feature" and the "very foundation of the investigation process has been shaken".
"The first thing we have to do is to liberate CBI from extranesous considerations, political influence, intrusions and other interference," the bench said.
The court said that even after 15 years of Vineet Narain judgement to make CBI independent, the political clout still "frustrates" its impartiality.
"When this court had said in an unequivocal term that investigation has to be uninfluenced and without interference. That strong foundation is shaking.
"The fact is that this court said that you should be free from interferences as an investigator. You have to be independent, unbiased and you don't have to take any instruction from political master," the bench said.
The bench which questioned the CBI for sharing its probe report with the government in a serious allegation of corruption, said it showed "total erosion of trust" the court has reposed in the agency.
"Are you not guided by the CrPC? The very foundation of this investigation process has been shaken. This is a premier investigating agency and it has to do something which enhances its credibility, reliability, impartiality and independence."
"You don't have to move with the crutches of political executive," it said, adding, "What we have to do in the situation as it has shaken the entire sonscience."
ASG Raval was replaced by senior advocate U U Lalit to represent the CBI in the matter which has been described as "very serious matter" by the bench.
Referring to subsequent affidavit by the CBI Director that the draft report was shared with the Law Minister and joint Secretaries of PMO and Coal Ministry, the bench asked the Director as to why he did not give details "about the changes made in the draft report and if changes were made, to what extent the changes were made and at whose instance whether besides three persons named in para four of the affidavit whether the draft report was shared by any other person."
It also asked the CBI Director to disclose the names of two officials one each of PMO and Ministry of Coal with whom the draft report was shared as desired by them.
The CBI Director in his fresh affidavit will have to give details of the "manual and guidelines" on the issue of sharing of status report in cases in which reports are called for by the courts.
It also sought detailed information about the team probing the case including the CVs of DIGs/SPs to ascertain their career details.
During the hearing, the bench also pulled up the Centre for not furnishing all the information required by the CBI. The agency pointed out in its report that Coal Ministry is not giving information required in conducting its probe.
"It is very serious that certain information sought by the CBI from the Ministry is not furnished," the bench said adding, "On the one hand your joint secretary wants to see status report but on the other hand he is not ready to furnish documents requisitioned by the CBI."
The bench said that the CBI must be "insulated" from all kinds of interferences for restoring its "impartiality".
"We have to insulate the CBI from political and any other types of interferences. We have to undertake this exercise so that this premier organisation restores its position of impartiality."
At the very outset, the bench expressed its displeasure over the sharing of the draft report and posed several queries to Lalit.
"We believed you (CBI). We trusted you. Still you did not disclose anything. Even you did not state anything by way of status report that the draft was discussed and the draft was changed. Despite the affidavit being filed on April 26, this court was kept in the dark," the bench said.
The bench said that despite the emphatic assertion by the CBI on March 12 that it did not share the report with government, it had its own doubts which led to passing of an order asking the CBI Director to file an affidavit on this issue.
"When on March 12, we passed the order, there were in our mind some lurking doubts that is why we called for an affidavit and passed such order.
Referring to the judgement in Vineet Narain case, the bench said it was "really more serious" issue as even today CBI is not out of control of political and executive bosses.
It said that as per the judgement, though the Minister concerned has the power to call for information generally regarding the cases being handled by the agencies, the authority is "subject to the condition that none of them would permit the Minister to interfere with the course of investigation and prosecution in any individual case".
"This (Judgement) is being getting misconstrued vis-a-vis investigation. Will it not reconcile with the investigation and with the functioning of the government. Can in that situation, the minister have the power to give direction to the agencies? Will it not frustrate the independence of the investigation? CBI has to be impartial, free from extraneous consideration and sources and political influence," the bench said.
"It is not that justice has to be done but it should seem to have been done. Similarly, investigation should not be only impartial but it should seem to have been impartial," the bench observed adding "had it not been asserted by the ASG that the draft report was not shared, everything would have been pushed under the carpet".
"How do you proceed? There is intrusion from every direction. Intrusion is from right, intrusion is from left and intrusion is from above, intrusion is from below. This intrusion was deliberate," the bench said.