The CBI’s formal acknowledgment to the Supreme Court that, on the demand of Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, it shared the status report of its investigations on the Coalgate scam with bureaucrats in the PMO and Coal Ministry shows how deeply the agency stands compromised. The fact that the CBI Director has now assured the court that the bureau’s future status reports “shall not be shared with any [member of the] political executive” is ample proof that the CBI knew its original action was a serious transgression of procedure. But for the fact that the story got leaked, the CBI would probably have continued “consulting” the political executive. While sharing the status report with the Law Minister prior to filing it in the Supreme Court is bad enough, the fact that the CBI was happy to have its findings shown to bureaucrats from the very ministries that are under investigation borders on interference with the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court must now reprimand and punish those responsible for this subversion of the court’s directions, especially since ensuring the CBI’s independence of action has been its fundamental objective from the time of the Vineet Narain case. More importantly, the Law Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office must now be asked to provide affidavits on the matter and undertake never to interfere in the work of the CBI in this manner.

This is not a first for CBI when it comes to big cases. Even where the 2G investigation is concerned, the agency has shown signs of being subservient to the political leadership. After an initial burst of action, it delayed its probe in the spectrum scam till after the release of the CAG’s report made further inaction politically untenable. While concluding in its chargesheet of April 2011 that former Telecom Minister A. Raja “misled” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it ignored documents that suggested the government approved of Mr. Raja’s actions. Apart from shoddy investigation, the 2G investigation shows the multiplicity of contradiction and instances where even file notings have been reproduced wrongly in the chargesheet. The CBI’s probes into opposition leaders like Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Jagan Reddy have also raised eyebrows. But in Coalgate, the premier investigating agency has been caught red-handed taking the highest court for a ride despite being under its constant monitor and supervision. The intention is clearly to subvert justice and undermine an agency tasked by the Supreme Court with ensuring probity. The people of India deserve to know the identity of all those within government who undertook — or tolerated — this latest assault on the CBI’s ‘independence.’