People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 05, 2013




CBI & Coal Scam


Stop Such Crass Interference



VIRTUALLY confirming the apprehensions aired in these columns last week over this UPA-2 government’s role in trying to doctor the ongoing CBI investigations into the scam over allocation of coal blocks, the Supreme Court has now established such interference through its scathing observations made on April 30.


The three judge bench of Justices R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph said “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 the law minister and other officials) has shaken the independent process. First thing we should do is to 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 investigation. This investigation and henceforth all investigation must be uninfluenced by any extraneous force.” Given this, it is completely untenable for the law minister to continue to remain in office any longer.


There are three issues involved regarding this scam. The first is to establish the culpability of the individuals and collectively the government of India in seeking to influence the ongoing investigations. Secondly, this raises the larger and the most important issue of ensuring the impartiality of the CBI and its autonomy. Equally important is the third issue: identifying individuals responsible for illegal allocations of coal mines; ensuring that justice is delivered by punishing them and seeking to retrieve atleast some of the loss to the exchequer by canceling such allocations which were made on considerations other than merit and reallocating them through a mechanism that reflects the current market price of this mineral resource.


On August 17, 2012 the CAG submited its report to the parliament on this allocation of coal blocks stating that the manner in which these were done has led to a loss to the national exchequer of Rs 1.86 lakh crores (significantly scaling down the estimate made in its March 22, 2012 draft report of Rs 10.67 lakh crores). On September 6, 2012 the Supreme Court admits a public interest litigation that seeks the de-allocation of coal mines allotted between 2004 and 2011. It is this case that is being heard by the apex court today.


In the course of the hearings the CBI tells the Supreme Court on March 8, 2013, through a status report that allocations were made without proper procedure. But this status report did not contain the fact that on March 6 at the call of the union law minister this was not only shown to him but was also vetted. This issue becomes important as the apex court observed that the CBI “said before this very court in unequivocal terms that this investigation would be independent”. This fact of the report being discussed and changes made as suggested by the law minister is confirmed in the resignation letter of the Assistant Solicitor General Harin Raval who has detailed the proceedings of the meeting with the law minister in the presence of the Attorney General, G E Vahanvati.


Following reports that appeared in the national media regarding this meeting between the CBI and the law minister and the furore it created in the political circles, the Supreme Court directed the CBI on April 15, 2013 to submit an affidavit saying that the report was not shared with anybody. On April 26 the CBI director submits an affidavit stating that the report was shared with the law minister and officials from the PMO and coal ministries, the very same ministries that are allegedly implicated in this coal blocks allocations scam. It was on April 30 that the Supreme Court made these scathing observations and asked the CBI to file a fresh affidavit by May 6 and that the matter will come up for hearing on May 8. The Supreme Court has sought answers on seven questions: 1) Why did the status report of March 8 not disclose that it had been shared with the government prior to its submission in court?; 2) On what basis did the Additional Solicitor General make an assertive statement before the court on March 12 that the report was not shared with anyone?; 3) What was the extent of changes made to the draft report and at whose instance?; 4) Was it shared with anyone else apart from the law minister and PMO and coal ministry officials? 5) Who were the PMO and coal ministry officials?; 6) What is the procedure followed by the CBI under its manual or rules on sharing of status reports of ongoing investigations called for by the courts?; and 7) What are the background details of the CBI team handling this investigation?


The answers to these questions, the apex court said, must be “candid, honest and backed by records”. If this direction is adhered to then both the CBI and the government would be in serious trouble as there are already allegations that the officer in charge of the coal scam investigations, Ravi Kanth, was shifted out as he refused to toe the line of his bosses.


The apex court observed that even after 15 years since the observation made in the Vineet Narain (1997) case to make the CBI independent, though under the administrative control of the government, political clout still “frustrates” its impartiality. This course adopted by the CBI came under sharp attack with the bench using expressions such as the “total erosion of trust” in the CBI and its behaviour “has shaken the entire conscience”.


What the CBI will now say on May 6 will have a significant bearing on the future administrative set up of its functioning. During the course of the discussions on the Lokpal Bill in the parliament, similar concerns over the impartiality of the CBI were raised. The Bill is still waiting to be approved by the Rajya Sabha. The Select Committee that was set up to examine the Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha has already submitted its recommendations, one of which deals extensively on this matter. This legislation has not come before the Rajya Sabha so far. This is quite natural given the fact that every government of the day has been using and would like to use the CBI as its hand maiden to further its objectives. These can range from using the CBI to garner support to manufacture a majority in the parliament to protecting those guilty of such loot of our country’s resources through the route of ‘crony capitalism’.


The three issues that we raised at the outset need to be addressed with urgency. Since the government, the judiciary and the legislature are currently seized with this matter, this is indeed the appropriate time to take certain important long pending decisions.

(May 1, 2013)