Even PM can’t interfere with CBI probe: Supreme Court

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May 10, 2013

NEW DELHI: While disapproving law minister Ashwani Kumar's interference with the coal scam investigations, the Supreme Court invoked a 1997 judgment to drive home the message that even the Prime Minister, who has administrative jurisdiction over the CBI, did not have the power to do so.

May 10, 2013

NEW DELHI: While disapproving law minister Ashwani Kumar's interference with the coal scam investigations, the Supreme Court invoked a 1997 judgment to drive home the message that even the Prime Minister, who has administrative jurisdiction over the CBI, did not have the power to do so.

This was one of the highlights of the written order released on Thursday of the three-hour hearing the previous day in which the government and CBI had been subjected to tongue-lashing.

While recalling the norm laid down by the 1997 judgment in the Vineet Narain (Jain Hawala) case to insulate the agency from extraneous pressures, the bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said: "This Court noted that though the Minister who has been given responsibility for the functioning of the CBI has general power to review its working and give broad policy directions and he has also power to call for information regarding progress of the cases being handled by the agency, but none of these powers would extend to permit the concerned Minister to interfere with the course of investigation and prosecution in any individual case."

The implication of this written observation is clear: that even the Prime Minister, who holds the personnel portfolio and is therefore responsible for the functioning of the CBI, does not have the power to interfere with the course of investigation. So the law minister Ashwani Kumar, who has no authority over the CBI, had no power whatsoever to call the meeting with Sinha, let alone seeing and making changes in the status reports meant for the Supreme Court's perusal.

In a tacit reference to the significance of the status reports, the order pointed out that "PE 2 relates to allocation of coal blocks for the period 2006-2009". This period overlaps with the period when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the coal portfolio. The order added: "In the course of inquiry into PE 2, 11 FIRs alleging corruption and conspiracy against unknown public officials of the Ministry of Coal have already been registered by the CBI."

The written order however left unsaid the extent of damage suffered by the CBI investigation due to the sharing of its status reports with the government. It merely paraphrased CBI director Ranjit Sinha's affidavit saying: "we find we find that draft status reports pertaining to PE 2 and PE 4 (preliminary enquiries) have been shared with the Law Minister, Law

Officers and the two Joint Secretaries – one from the Ministry of Coal and the other from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and at their instance some changes have been made."

On the nature of the changes, all that the order said was a reiteration of Sinha's affidavit: "Some of the changes made in these draft status reports are significant." Unlike its oral observations, the Supreme Court's written order did not repudiate Sinha's claim that the changes did not alter "the central theme" of the status reports.

If anybody from the government was actually pulled up in the written order, it was the two joint secretaries directly concerned with the outcome of the probe. "In light of the position exposited in Vineet Narain, there was no justifiable reason for the two Joint Secretaries to peruse the draft status reports and recommend changes therein nor was there any justification for the CBI to allow these officers access to the draft status reports and allow the changes in the draft status reports as suggested by them."


Courtesy: TOI