The government made a minimum of four changes to the CBI’s draft status report on the coal blocks allocation scam, the CBI told the Supreme Court on Monday, as the controversy involving a key minister, law officers and senior bureaucrats raged on.
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CBI director Ranjit Sinha’s personal nine-page affidavit, filed in response to a directive from the apex court, said that changes were made by law minister Ashwani Kumar and officials from the PMO and the coal ministry, and that the government's top law officer GE Vahanvati had also suggested alterations.
“These changes made by the law minister, PMO and coal ministry officials were accepted by the CBI as they pertained to its tentative findings,” Sinha stated in his affidavit.
But he asserted that neither was the central theme of status reports changed after these meetings nor was any deletion of evidence against any suspect or accused carried out.
The CBI is probing alleged irregularities in coal block allocations that the state auditor has estimated benefited companies by a staggering Rs. 1.86 lakh crore, and the very act of showing its draft report to government officials had provoked a furious response from the Opposition.
The disclosure of changes only added to the furore, and set the scene for the next act in the drama: an SC hearing on Wednesday.
“These are extremely major changes... The investigation was directed at the coal minister and the PM. In a way, the report was shown to possible suspects,” said Arun Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha.
The government maintained that Kumar was well within his mandate to scrutinise a draft report. “One cannot draw a line and expect the law minister to shut his eyes and ears…..Whatever is correct or not, has to be decided by the law minister. Who else will decide?” asked external affairs minister Salman Khurshid.
The controversy has put the law minister under intense pressure to quit, though his party has stood by him so far. Additional solicitor general Harin Raval, who told the top court on March 12 that the status report had not been shared with the political executive, has, however, resigned.
The CBI said on Monday that Raval’s statement was unauthorised, since he did not discuss it with CBI officers before making the submission in the court.
The changes accepted in the report included deletion of initial findings which stated “non-existence of a transparent system regarding allocation”, absence of a proper record on the basis of which the screening committee allocated the coal blocks and the legality of allocation when amendments in law about allocation of natural resources were pending before the Parliament.
The CBI stated it had shared one of its status reports with the law minister, while two were shown to Vahanvati and the joint secretaries.
The reports were not shared with any other officer.
The Supreme Court recently slapped the CBI on its wrist saying that its sharing of information with the government about the investigation had “shaken the entire process”, and the CBI need not take any instructions from “political masters”.