‘Coalgate’ Fire Ignited, CBI Director Feels The Heat, Does A Somersault

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This is a sequel to my earlier blog post of 27th April, 2013, titled: ‘The CBI Director Caught On The Wrong Foot’.

As anticipated, the CBI Director’s last affidavit providing potent ammunition to the Supreme Court (SC), 30th April, 2013, was destined to be the day when ‘Coalgate’ fire was certain to get ignited. It, in fact, was a big-bang beginning of the proceedings of this high-profile PIL (Public Interest Litigation) case in the SC. The two main opposite players in this case – the political and the bureaucratic executives – bore the brunt of the SC ire. And the way things progressed, it appeared as though the presiding judge had held in his hand a sledge-hammer rather than a wooden hammer the judiciary all over is generally identified with.

Supreme Court Of India

A day ahead of this proceeding, however, an internal squabble had surfaced in the public domain. The Additional Solicitor General (ASG), Shri Haren Rawal, in a letter addressed to Solicitor General (SG) sought to put the blame on him for making the ASG a scapegoat in this episode. For it was based on SG’s briefing that he had assured the SC on an earlier occasion that the CBI’s status report in the matter was not shared with anyone – a fact that was subsequently contradicted by the CBI Director in his affidavit filed on 26th April, 2013.Thus, apparently both the SG and the ASG appearing to be on the slippery ground as far as this case was concerned, the government decided to field the Attorney General (AG), G E Vahanvati instead.

The court’s proceedings, ever since commenced in the morning, were transmitted simultaneously as blow-by-blow account by the 24×7 TV national news channels that had positioned their reporter’s right inside the court and its premises.

Central Bureau Of Investigation, India

Coming hard on both the CBI and the government, the court commenced with some stinging remarks and observations against each of them. The remarks/observations targeted at the CBI read as follows:

  • Suppression of fact by the CBI is not ordinary; it’s deliberate and intentional, why was it done? Why didn’t the CBI tell that report was shared? It has shaken the entire process; is it not a total erosion of faith reposed in the CBI?
  • You do not need to take instructions from political class;
  • Isn’t this tantamount to suppressing vital facts from the Court;
  • Even now, you haven’t mentioned if any changes were made;
  • You shouldn’t be on the crutches of the executives;
  • Very disturbing features in the affidavit – Who all the report was shared with? What were the changes made in the report and on whose orders? Foundation of investigation has been shaken. Let CBI Director file a fresh affidavit furnishing all these details on 6th May, 2013.

Turning to the Attorney General who submitted that he hadn’t seen the CBI’s probe status report, the Court parted with the remarks/observations that read as:

  • It’s a massive breach of trust on the part of the government as the Court had directed for an independent investigation by the CBI
  • Court has been misled by the Additional Solicitor General
  • Restore CBI’s independence
  • How did the foundation of law become so shaky?
  • Liberate CBI from extraneous considerations
  • CBI says Coal Ministry is not furnishing all required information – that’s a serious matter

Winding up the proceedings for the day, the court also pointed out that cancellation or criminality in the coal block allotments are the main issues in this case. The court also demanded the list of all CBI officers involved in the alleged coal scam investigation.

By midday, in the backdrop of the developments in the Supreme Court, both Houses of the Parliament witnessed noisy scenes, disruption and walk out by opposition BJP and the eventual adjournment of the proceedings for the day. In the result, an all important Finance Bill 2013, among others, continues to hang in balance.

Responding to the SC’s observations and remarks, later in the day, the government attempted to present a brave face when its spokespersons led by Salman Khurshid, External Affairs Minister, termed them as:

  • They are over hyped and are in no way an indictment of the government;
  • Verdict of the SC in this case needs to be awaited;
  • Law Ministry is the nodal ministry and therefore Law Minister seeking to see the CBI Director’s affidavit is perfectly in order and
  • Prime Minister was also the Coal Minister in UPA-1 and hence vetted the probe status report.

However, by the close of this fast paced and most eventful day – from legal and political standpoint – what came as a huge surprise in the end was the one from none else than the CBI Director, Mr Ranjit Sinha himself. Confronted by media persons, this time round, he said, “CBI is not independent and is an arm of the government. The report was shown not to any outsider but to the Law Minister of India. And thus he seemed to be saying now that no mistakes were committed by him earlier in sharing the probe status report with the Law Minister and also, in a way, he sought to justify his stance in the affidavit.

This was a kind of somersault on the part of the CBI Director who presumably appeared succumbing to the pressure of the political and bureaucratic executives, yet again. One may be inclined to make such an observation since such statements should have come on day 1 when he had filed the probe status report and a few days later the Additional Solicitor General had assured the court that the same was not shared with anyone. Coming as it does at this stage is unlikely to convince the knowledgeable.

Secondly, the plea of the government that the Law Ministry being the nodal ministry and hence the Law Minister has an authority to have an access to such reports, seems unacceptable on two counts: (a) CBI’s  administrative ministry in this case was not taken into confidence when the Law Minister sought to have an access to this report;  the Law Minister, in a situation like this, needed such a request to be routed through the administrative ministry and (b) make no mistake, it was an investigation status report to be shared exclusively between the Supreme Court and the investigating agency, the CBI, and therefore it wasn’t under any situation open to the third party – political or bureaucratic executives; more so, since the two are named as the necessary opposite parties in the instant case.

Coalgate fiasco, nevertheless, seemed to taking its toll when the court was in the midst of hearing the case, the news of the Additional Solicitor General, Mr Raval putting in his papers flashed, paving the way for the new incumbent Mr U U Lalit to take over from now on.

The case may come up next on May 9, 2013. All eyes and ears would be fixed on the Supreme Court again.

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Narendra Bhagat

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A retired I.A.S. officer, Mr. Narendra Bhagat spends part of his time to blog and write for our magazine. He has authored two books.


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