By Ajay Singh
Two of the country’s top law officers obliged the UPA government by lying to the Supreme Court about vetting the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI's) status report on the coal scam, as has become clear from the letter written by Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval to his boss and the country’s foremost law officer, Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati.
The government expected, indeed indicated, to CBI Director Ranjit Sinha that he should follow their lead and lie to the Supreme Court on oath.
Raval and Vahanvati had both lied to the apex court that the status report was not even shown to the political executive, much less tampered with at their instance. Both of them were present at the meeting held by Law Minister Ashwani Kumar to vet the CBI status report. The nation would not have got to know of their wilful perpetration of a government lie – and undermining of the prestige, dignity and credibility of the very court that they are constitutionally mandated to uphold - if the CBI Director also had heeded signals and suggestions from the government to lie on oath..
According to top sources in the CBI, the government had exerted tremendous pressure on the CBI chief to lie under oath and file a false affidavit in the court. It was after a series of meetings with his top team that Sinha was persuaded not to pay any heed to the government’s advice. His top aides told Sinha at these meetings that the fact that the Supreme Court sought a specific affidavit from the CBI Director - saying that the draft report was not shared with the political executive - meant that it already had reasonable doubt or maybe even sound proof to the contrary.
“Sinha was told that in such a situation, a false affidavit by the Director of the CBI before the SC would constitute a grave impropriety and contempt of court,” a top source revealed.
“He was told that while the political executive would escape unscathed, the Director would face the full wrath of the court and the consequences thereupon, including going to jail,” he said.
The fact that Sinha has just been appointed and cannot be removed by the government before he completes two years was pointed out as the upside for sticking to the truth.
Sources in the government say that though the CBI chief had made up his mind not to toe the government’s line, this strong advice from his top team reinforced his will to stand against the might of the government and go down in history as the first CBI chief to file an affidavit contradicting the known position of the government of the day.
“There was literally panic in the government once Sinha let it be known that he would go his own way,” official sources said.
In fact, the indiscretion on the part of the CBI chief to let the status report be vetted by the government had its genesis in the dependence of the country’s premier investigative agency on the government for every issue. For instance, only a month back the plush headquarters of the CBI, which is one of the most modern government buildings in Delhi, was cut off from the outside world because all landlines were snapped by the service provider due to non-payment of dues. “When that is the kind of dependence on the government - with whom we have to deal with every day for a hundred different things that are at their discretion - it is not easy even for the CBI Director to take on the government. What Sinha has done has to be seen in that light and commended rather than being condemned for showing the report to the government in the first place,” said a source close to developments.
While the CBI’s over-dependence on the government is a given, its investigations often get tampered with by the prosecution wing which owes its allegiance to the law ministry. Perhaps, Sinha’s affidavit in the SC is a silent admission of the fact that the country’s premier investigative agency does not enjoy even functional autonomy which is a prerequisite for a fair and honest probe.
When the court takes up Sinha’s affidavit for consideration shortly, the CBI is prepared to take a hard knock on its knuckles for showing the report to the political executive in spite of clear instructions from the court to the contrary. But one hopes the apex court does not stop there and the government itself feels the heat for leaning on top officials to undermine the sanctity of our legal systems, the very foundations of our democracy.
Ajay Singh is managing editor of Governance Now
more in India