Thursday, May 2, 2013

Coal Scam: Law officers scrap on eve of Coalgate hearing in SC

New Delhi: Less than 24 hours before the Supreme Court takes up the coal scam hearing on Tuesday, a blame game broke out within the government over who was responsible for incorrectly telling the court that the CBI had not shared the contents of its status report on “Coalgate” with the political executive.

In a four-page letter to attorney general Goolam Vahanvati, additional solicitor general Harin Raval said he had been made a “scapegoat” for informing the court that
the March 8 CBI status report had not been shared with the political executive even though it was the attorney general who gave that statement to the court first.

Raval said after Vahanvati had given a statement to the court on March 12 that the Coalgate probe status report was not revealed, he had no option but to “embarrassingly” stick to the same argument. ASG Raval told attorney general Vahanvati that the latter, too, was present in the meeting at the law minister’s office.

‘Cong may have to act against Ashwani’
New Delhi: The alleged vetting of the coal scam investigation status report took place prior to its filing in the Supreme Court, additional solicitor general Harin Raval told AG Goolam Vahanvati. The ASG alleged that despite having full knowledge of the probe status report, the AG decided to tell the court on March 12 that he had no knowledge of it.

The letter, with a copy marked to beleaguered law minister Ashwani Kumar, stunned the AG. When contacted by TOI for his response, Vahanvati said, “I am extremely upset to receive it a day before the hearing in the Supreme Court. It is very unfortunate. I never informed the court that it was not shared with the political executive. When the court asked whether I had a copy of the report, I said no. I still do not have a copy of it and we responded to the CBI’s allegation on the basis of the court informing that the agency prima facie found that there was no basis or rationale behind the coal block allocations.”

The public display of differences came on a day when government, feeling the pressure of opposition’s protest against interference with CBI’s investigation, swiftly moved to bring forward the date for the passage of the budget in Lok Sabha to Tuesday to guard against the possibility of a major mishap. The budget was set to be passed over two days beginning May 6. Sources attributed the sudden switch of dates to “caution” on the part of parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath to ensure that the finance bill was not stuck in case Parliament had to be adjourned abruptly.

The public feuding between the law officers erupted when the government was bracing for the crucial SC hearing on Tuesday on whether law minister Ashwani Kumar, the PMO and the coal ministry sought to subvert CBI’s investigation into ‘Coalgate’.

The hearing before a bench led by Justice R M Lodha and comprising Justices Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph, will essentially look into whether the “vetting” of the status report by the law minister amounted to interfering with CBI’s probe and, therefore, an act of impropriety. UPA sources agreed that an adverse determination against the law minister may lead the Congress leadership with little option than to secure Ashwani’s papers.

Contrary to reports in media, the CBI has not submitted to the court that the changes were carried out at the law minister’s instance.

Sources said CBI counsel U U Lalit will present to the court the draft of the status report that the CBI took to the law ministry on March 6, so that Justice Lodha and his brother justices can compare it to the version that was submitted to them on March 8. “We may have to let go of the law minister if the two drafts look significantly different and the contrast leads the court to conclude that Ashwani’s intervention was not minor and went beyond proof reading,” said a senior UPA functionary.

As against this, the PMO and coal ministry, which appeared to have taken a peep into the contents of the status report but stopped short of suggesting amendments, are in safer zone.

Although governments have rarely been comfortable with judiciary taking charge of a politically significant investigation, UPA leadership on Monday seemed resigned to having to swallow the notso-sweet pill in order to get out of the tricky situation it was pushed into on Friday when the CBI confirmed to the court that it was made to share the contents of the report with the law minister, as well as the PMO and the coal ministry.

“We can live with an SIT looking into the case and reporting to the SC,” said a senior UPA source on Monday when the opposition kept up the pressure for the law minister’s resignation for interfering with the CBI probe, virtually eliminating the prospect of the rest of the budget session accomplishing anything significant besides the passage of the bill.
Dhananjay Mahapatra TNN

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