New Delhi: While the victory in Karnataka has come as a big boost for the Congress, the party-led UPA government has no reason to celebrate in Delhi. Pressure is building up on the government to oust Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who allegedly ordered changes in CBI's status report on coal scam.
Sources say while the Congress is yet to make up its mind on Ashwani's fate, the party is waiting for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision. A decision on Ashwani is likely to be taken in the next 48 hours, said the sources.
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.
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 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 the SC.
Expressing concern over the Centre's interference in the CBI probe in coal scam and other cases, the SC directed the CBI not to share progress of probe or any report or material with anybody other than its 33-member team and Director.
Meanwhile, following the SC's observations in the case, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reiterated its demand for Ashwani's resignation. "ASG (Additional Solicitor General) blamed Attorney General. Now Attorney General blames Law Minister. The fact is all three of them have misconducted themselves," said Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj. "ASG has resigned. Attorney General and Law Minister should also resign forthwith," she added.