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We should liberate CBI from political interference: Supreme Court

J. Venkatesan
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The widening sinkhole that the coal scam has become claimed its first victim on Wednesday as Additional Solicitor-General Haren Raval resigned for having misled the Supreme Court, while CBI Director Ranjit Sinha brought the executive and the judiciary to the verge of open confrontation by stating that his agency was not an “autonomous organization” but part of the government. 

The CBI, which later sought to “clarify” its Director’s remark, came in for criticism earlier in the day when the Supreme Court said the investigative agency should be insulated from executive interference. “We have to undertake this exercise so that this premier organisation restores its position of impartiality,” Justice R. M. Lodha, heading the Bench, declared. 

Justices Lodha told senior counsel Uday Lalit, appearing for the CBI “as a premier investigating agency, your action must be to enhance its credibility and impartiality. Independence means not that you [CBI] move with crutches of the Executive. Your action [in sharing the report with Law Minister and two officials] has shaken the independent process. First thing we should do is liberate the CBI from any extraneous consideration and interference so that the investigation is not maligned. This is the prime task. Disturbing events unfolded in this case affects the credibility of the institution. This investigation and henceforth all investigations must be uninfluenced by any extraneous force.”

The Bench rapped the CBI for sharing the draft status report on the coal scam with the Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and said suppression of this fact from the court was disturbing.

The three-judge Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph directed the CBI to file an affidavit by May 6 regarding the changes that were made in the status report, at whose instance the changes were made, and the effect of these changes on the entire investigation.

Justice Lodha made it clear to Senior counsel U. Lalit, appearing for the CBI “if somebody is sought to be shielded then our reaction will be different. If we find the investigation has been influenced, then the inference is the investigation is farce. The entire investigation would be rendered meaningless.”

Justice Lodha told the counsel “Tell us when the report was filed [in the court] why was it hidden that this report was shared. In the first report on March 12, an assertion was made by the Additional Solicitor General [Harin Raval] that the contents were not shared. In the report submitted on April 26, you [CBI] have not disclosed anything that the draft has been discussed. Till date the court has been kept in the dark about what happened. We have no doubt that the government has administrative control over the CBI but it was said before this court in unequivocal terms that this investigation would be independent.”

Justice Lodha observed: “As an investigator you know your role. You are the master. You don’t need to seek instructions. There are serious allegations of criminal conspiracy. Where was the need to share the status report and doesn’t it show erosion of trust. Is there any statute that says that this is how the investigation must be done.”

The Judge observed: “In regular work, if there is a shoddy job done by lower investigative rung then we call upon the CBI, but if the CBI is seen to be doing a shoddy job and is being partial then what do we do. Does this not amount to suppression? Can you tell me in law whether the Law Minister can call for the report? Look carefully into the CBI Manual and guidelines etc. and tells us whether status report with regard to the ongoing investigation can be shared.”

Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, appearing for the Centre shared the sentiments of the court and said he fully agreed with the observations that the CBI should function independently. He said “on January 24, the court put a question to me with regard to power of the Centre on mines, then …

(Continued on Page 10)

Ranjit Sinha says CBI is part of government, not autonomous

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