New Delhi: The Supreme Court, while examining the affidavit submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with coal scam, on Wednesday came down heavily on the government and the investigating agency for the probe mess and gave the Centre time till July 3 to file an affidavit before it on steps to make the agency autonomous.
The apex court took a very strong stand and called the CBI a "caged parrot speaking in its master's voice". Indicting the government for alleged interference in the CBI probe, the three-judge bench headed by Justice RM Lodha, said it will step in if the CBI was not made an autonomous body. However, it admitted that giving unbridled powers to the agency was not a possibility.
"The CBI has become a caged parrot speaking in its master's voice. It's a sordid saga that there are many masters and giving unbridled power to the CBI is not possible. The CBI has become the police force and is in the administrative control of the Central government. CBI investigations have to be independent," the SC said in its observations.
In a stinging criticism, the Supreme Court called the CBI a 'caged parrot speaking in its master's voice'.
The SC added that if a law was in the offing which would protect the CBI's impartial investigations, then it will not pass any orders but if there was no such move, then "we will step in".
The SC censured the government saying that even after 15 years of the Vineet Narayan judgement, the "situation in the country has become much worse as far as CBI autonomy is concerned". "What is the CBI? Is it a collaborator or an investigator," the SC asked in its stinging cri.
The apex court also slammed officials of the PMO and Coal Ministry during the hearing. "How on earth could the Joint Secretaries of the PMO and the Coal Ministry attend the meeting, see the report and suggest changes to it," the SC asked. "It pains us to see the credibility of the CBI getting affected. The CBI is doing a collaborative probe. The job of the CBI is to interrogate and not interact with government," the court added and also said that the "heart of the CBI report was changed on the suggestions of government officials".
Attorney General GE Vahanvati, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and the two officials of the PMO and the Coal Ministry had been accused by the CBI in its affidavit of suggesting changes to its report on coalgate.
Vahanvati, however, sought to deflect charges against him, saying that he never sought a copy of the report and that he acted as per the instructions of the Law Minister. "My meeting with CBI officials took place only on suggestions of the Law Minister," he told SC.
Expressing concern over the Centre's interference in the CBI probe in coal scam and other cases, the SC said, "No substantial progress has been made in the coal scam probe after registration of the case. The CBI must know how to stand up against all pulls and pressures by government and its officials."
The SC also directed the CBI not to share progress of probe or any report or material with anybody other than its 33-member team and Director, adding, "The CBI Director and the investigating team should have stood up and denied any access to two joint secretaries to draft status report. The court wants to know can the Law Minister ask CBI to show details of probe or status report in a case involving people of other ministeries and PMO. Does it not subvert integrity of investigation if changes are brought in status report on suggestion of Law Minister and govt officers?"
The court said that it was the responsibility of the CBI chief to ensure that no access should be granted to any person, including Law Minister, other Union Ministers, law officers, CBI counsel and Department of Prosecution of CBI to probe in coal block scam. "The status report on probe in coalgate shall not be provided to special CBI court where FIR was registered," it said.
The apex court asked for immediate steps be taken to repatriate former DIG Ravi Kant Mishra who was investigating officer in the case and had been transferred to the Intelligence Bureau and added that it will consider various aspects, including setting up of SIT to look after the probe into the case.
Former CBI Director Joginder Singh lauded the apex court's observations and said that the SC was correct. "CBI needs permission at every level. CBI movements are restricted, they can use CBI as they want," he said.
The CBI responded saying, "The CBI will follow directions of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in letter and spirit. The CBI assures the Hon'ble Court of a thorough and qualitative investigation as desired."
Congress rules out action against Ashwani Kumar
The Congress on Wednesday ruled out any action against Law Minister Ashwani Kumar in the coal scam case saying that the Supreme Court, hearing the CBI affidavit, did not name him anywhere during its observations.
"There is no need for any action against Ashwani Kumar till a final court order," PMO sources said.
The Congress also sought to reject charges that the CBI was under its control. "The PM and the UPA government have given a lot of liberty to the CBI, even for probing Congress ministers," the party said.
The CBI affidavit
In a big embarrassment for the government, CBI Director Ranjit Sinha in an affidavit told the Supreme Court on Monday that the Law Minister and senior officials of the PMO and Coal Ministry had made changes in the central agency's draft status report on coal scam.
Ashwani, who is under attack from the Opposition which is demanding his resignation over the issue, could find himself on a more sticky wicket if adverse remarks are made against him by the apex court on Wednesday.
Attorney General GE Vahanvati may also find it difficult to justify his earlier claim made in the SC that he was not aware about the contents of the status report, a statement belied by the CBI Director's nine-page affidavit saying that the AG had glanced through the report and changes were made in it on his suggestion.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice RM Lodha, which had pulled up the CBI for keeping it in the dark about the sharing of status report with government, will go through a second affidavit filed by Sinha giving details of the changes made and at whose instance these were done.
Sinha in his affidavit said that the minister made "certain changes" in the agency's draft probe report on coal scam and gave details of series of meetings with Kumar, Vahanvati, Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval and Shatrughna Singh and AK Bhalla, joint secretaries of the PMO and the Coal Ministry during which changes in the probe reports were suggested and made by them. The CBI version contradicts reports of Ashwani's account that he was not involved in drafting the changes.
Meanwhile, differences have reportedly cropped up between Manmohan Singh and Sonia with the latter wanting the Prime Minister to address media on all issues plaguing the government, sources say. But Manmohan Singh is not keen to talk to the media on any of the corruption allegations including 2G spectrum scam, Railway Board bribery and Railway Protection Force officers transfer and posting scandal and the coal scam.
Sources said the Prime Minister and the Congress party are not on the same page when it comes to allegations against Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar. Both the ministers are considered close to Manmohan Singh.