The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed its disapproval of alterations made to the CBI’s draft status report into Coalgate by the law minister and senior bureaucrats, and tore into the agency for accommodating the changes which it said altered the “heart” of the report.
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“The heart of the report was changed on suggestions of government officials,” said a three-judge bench headed by justice RM Lodha, adding that the “whole direction” of the probe had got altered. “There are serious allegations against unknown ministry officials. How on earth can they see the report? They have no business,” the bench said.
The hearing had been eagerly awaited after the CBI told the court by affidavit on Monday that law minister Ashwani Kumar and senior officials in the PM’s office and coal ministry had made changes to the report, which probes alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks the state auditor estimates profited companies by a staggering Rs. 1.86 lakh crore.
The court reserved its harshest words for the CBI, calling it a “caged parrot with many masters” but its remarks on the minister were watched with the most interest as he is under intense pressure to quit.
“Does it not subvert the integrity of the investigation if changes are brought in status report on suggestion of law minister and government officers?” the court asked the government’s counsel. The government has consistently maintained the law minister had the right to see the report.
Though the court did not seek an explanation from him or come out with a more direct censure, Kumar’s fate hung in the balance with the Congress core group due to review the situation Thursday.
So far, PM Manmohan Singh's strong defence of his minister has shielded him from a groundswell of opinion in the party that he should be sacrificed, and party chief Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have left the decision to the PM. The government has a breather until July 10, the next date of hearing.
The court stressed the need for the CBI to operate independently of the political establishment . "You are not a constable or head constable. You are a premier investigating agency and must learn to work under pressure. It (probe) is not a collaborative exercise between the CBI and ministry officials ... It is a sordid saga of many masters and one parrot.”