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Coal scam: Supreme Court scathing, critical of govt. interference in CBI probe

New Delhi, May 8 (ANI): Even as Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati defended himself before the Supreme Court on his alleged role in suggesting change to some portions of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) report on the coal block allocation scam, the apex court on Wednesday was scathingly critical of governmental interference in what was essentially an investigative matter.

The Supreme Court bluntly said that the CBI’s job was to interrogate and not to interact with the government or any of its functionaries, while examining the nine-page fresh affidavit of the CBI that details the changes that it alleged were made by Union Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar and others to a draft of its report on the coal allocation investigation.

The apex court firmly said the government has the right to ask for a status on a particular probe, but has no business to intrude or interfere in an activity being carried out by the CBI. It said the government could not apply external pressure on a probe through its officials.

Attorney General Vahanvati said that he was all for maintaining the independence of the CBI in conducting probes, and added that he had not seen the report or its contents.

The CBI on Monday had told the Supreme Court that on March 6 this year, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and Coal Ministry officials and officers of the Prime Minister’s Office, made three significant changes to a draft of a report on the agency’s investigation into coal block allocations that it submitted three days later in court.

It said that these changes were made at three different meetings on that day. In one of those, it claims, coal ministry and PMO officials visited the CBI and asked that the investigating agency delete from the report its finding that there was no weightage or points system used when allocating coal blocks.

Then, in a meeting at his office the same day, Kumar made two deletions in the draft report, the CBI has claimed.

Kumar allegedly deleted a portion that found that a screening committee reviewing applications for coal blocks did not prepare charts and reports. The affidavit says Kumar also deleted a sentence in the draft report on the agency’s scope of inquiry on the legality of coal bock allocations.

In yet another meeting on that day, the CBI has said Attorney General GE Vahanvati, representing the Centre in the case, saw the draft and suggested “minor” changes.

CBI Director Ranjit Sinha has emphasised in his report that these changes “neither altered its central theme nor shifted the focus of inquiries in any manner.”

He had also assured the court that no names of suspects or accused were removed from the status report and also that no suspects or accused were let off in the process.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley said on Monday that the three deletions that the CBI has mentioned dilutes the “culpability of the accused”. He also said that the investigating report was shared with the “suspects” which is not “appropriate”.

BJP president Rajnath Singh said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kumar should quit on moral grounds.

Coalgate concerns the government’s allocation of the nation’s coal deposits to public sector entities (PSEs) and private companies by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In a draft report issued in March 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) office accused the government of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during the period 2004-2009.

Over the Summer of 2012, the BJP lodged a complaint resulting in a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into whether the allocation of the coal blocks was in fact influenced by corruption.

The essence of the CAG’s argument is that the government had the authority to allocate coal blocks by a process of competitive bidding, but chose not to.

As a result both public sector enterprises (PSEs) and private firms paid less than they might have otherwise.

In its draft report in March this year, the CAG estimated that the “windfall gain” to the allocatees was Rs.10673.03 billion (approximately USD 200 billion).

The CAG Final Report tabled in Parliament put the figure at Rs.1855.91 billion (approximately USD 34 billion)

On August 27, 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh read a statement in Parliament rebutting the CAG’s report both in its reading of the law and the alleged cost of the government’s policies. (ANI)