The brazenness with which the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has interfered with the working of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) probe into the Coalgate scam has left citizens wondering whether any institution will remain intact when someday this government and this prime minister bow out of office. While the story of the interference of the Prime Minister’ Office, the Law Minister, the Coal Ministry and the Attorney General in the preparation of the CBI’s report to the Supreme Court in this matter is indeed shocking, the lies uttered by the key players in this episode has shaken public confidence not just in ministers but for the first time in the country’s law officers.
How despicable the conduct of these individuals has been can be gauged from the following fact: The government allocated coal blocks to its cronies in an irresponsible manner during UPA-I. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) investigated these allocations and said that by not adopting a transparent method of allocation to private parties through methods like competitive bidding, the government’s actions had caused a humongous loss of Rs 1,85,591 crores up to March 31, 2011 to the public exchequer. This was far more than the loss caused by the unscrupulous manner in which the government sold 2G Spectrum to private telecom companies.
When the CAG report became public, ministers in the government hurled abuses at the CAG and sought to ridicule the findings of the auditors. Thereafter, the matter came before the Supreme Court and the court directed the CBI to investigate the allocations and report back to it. It was decided that the CBI would file its report in a sealed cover, meaning that no one outside the CBI would see it. But, such is the respect that the UPA and its law minister Mr.Ashwani Kumar have for the Supreme Court that they insisted on seeing the CBI’s report before it was sent to the court. The CBI had said exactly what the CAG had said. Its report spoke of the absence of clear cut norms for allocation of coal blocks. The law minister had this remark removed. Among those who were involved in this exercise, which smacks of contempt for the highest court in the country, were the law minister, the Attorney General, the PMO and the Coal Ministry. Ashwani Kumar summoned the CBI Director and law officers to his office to see the report. The Attorney General and the Additional Solicitor General attended this meeting and later summoned CBI officials to his home office. Meanwhile officials from the PMO and the Coal Ministry landed up at the CBI headquarters and asked that they be shown the report. All the characters in this drama suggested changes of some kind or the other or approved the line taken by the minister.
The court wanted the CBI to investigate the conduct of the government in coal block allocations and it asked for the report in a sealed cover because it did not want anyone in government to see it and pressure the CBI in any way. Also, the government was not to see this report because the status of the government is this case is that of the accused. Have you ever come across an investigating officer being asked to show his investigation report to an accused before submitting it before a court? Secondly, have you ever come across an investigating officer changing the contents of the charge sheet on the suggestions of the accused? This is common sense and very easily understood by India’s 120 crore people, but persons in the union government are so drunk with power that this simple logic goes over their head. Since they still remain in office after the CWG Scam, the 2G Scam and the Coalgate Scam, they have become bold enough to cock a snook at even the Supreme Court.
But, the story does not end here. When news of the government’s interference in the CBI’s report came into the open, the persons involved resorted to outright dishonesty. Shockingly, Mr.Vahanvati, the Attorney General and the country topmost law officer, lied in the Supreme Court that he had not seen the CBI report before it was presented in a sealed cover to the court. The Additional Solicitor General Mr.Harin Raval, who was present in the court was shocked to hear the dishonest claim made by Mr.Vahanvati and decided to lie to the court to save his boss. He told the Supreme Court that the CBI had not shared the report with its political masters. The Law Minister Mr.Ashwani Kumar and his friends in government resorted to a string of untruths to explain what he had done. It was said that he did not call a meeting of the CBI Director and others. Next he said he had made only grammatical changes in the report, as if that is the job of the law minister. Next, it was said that he had not made any “substantial changes” in the report. Finally, in an attempt top brazen it out, he and his friends argued that as law minister he had the right to oversee the legal side of the CBI’s work.
As the scandalous conduct of the law minister, the PMO and the law officers came to light, the Supreme Court directed the CBI Director Mr.Ranjit Sinha to file an affidavit stating exactly who had interfered with the report, what changes were made and why were lies uttered in court. As directed by the court, Mr.Sinha has filed an affidavit and contradicted the claims made by the law minister and the attorney general. He has said the law minister made two significant deletions in the report. If one sees the changes made by the minister, it is clear that he was trying to dilute the CBI report and save the government – a clear case of an accused diluting the charge sheet that the police is filing against him!
Mr Sinha’s narration of what happened clearly contradicts the Attorney General as well. The Law Minister called two meetings in this connection in February and March and Mr.Vahanvati was present at both these meetings. On March 6, Mr.Vahanvati called CBI officers to his home office, saw the report, made some observations and suggested some changes.
In other words, the CBI Director’s report to the Supreme Court constitutes an indictment of the law minister and the attorney general. He virtually states that both of them were dishonest This affidavit also discloses the fact that the Prime Minister’s Office had interfered with the status report filed by the CBI, as also the Coal Ministry – which tells us a lot about the respect that prime minister Manmohan Singh has for the Supreme Court. In addition, Mr.Harin Raval, who till recently was the Additional Solicitor General, has also confirmed that both the minister and the Attorney General directly interfered with the contents of the CBI’s report. Mr.Raval, in addition, has directly accused the Attorney General of having lied in the Supreme Court.
Mr Harin Raval, the Additional Solicitor General, who too uttered a lie in court to save the skin of his boss, however has had the grace to come clean and put the facts on the table. In a letter to the Attorney General he has put on record all the meetings which took place in regard to the CBI’s report to the court. His letter, which has been made public, fully corroborates the affidavit filed by the CBI Director and provides further evidence of the dishonesty of the law minister and the attorney general.
Mr Sinha’s affidavit and Mr.Raval’s letter gives us an idea of the audacity with which the key players lied to the court and the people about their involvement in this case. Finally, adding to the government’s shame is the indictment of its conduct by the Supreme Court itself on May 8. The court also reprimanded the officials of the PMO and Coal Ministry who had the temerity to go to the CBI’s office to see the report to be filed in court.
Finally, the court rebuked the government for changing “the heart” of the report and described the CBI as a “caged parrot” with many masters. It asked CBI whether it was a “collaborator or investigator?”
No government has ever got such a tongue-lashing from the Supreme Court. This makes it one of the most shameful moments in the history of the union government after independence. Yet, days after the court expressed its views, the prime minister, the law minister, the attorney general and the officials involved still continue in office as if nothing has happened. Never before have we seen so many thick-skinned persons in one government. Where do we go from here ?