The Supreme Court ordered the CBI on Monday to inquire into allegations that its former chief, Ranjit Sinha, abused his office to scuttle investigations into a multi-crore corruption scandal involving allotment of coal blocks during the UPA-I government.
The court asked CBI director Alok Verma, named the agency’s new chief last week, to head a Special Investigation Team into the matter. It allowed Verma to hire two officers of his choice to carry out the probe. The court made no comments on the allegations against Sinha.
“Since there has been a change in guard in CBI, we will continue to repose our faith in CBI,” the bench headed by Justice MB Lokur said, declining to entrust the task to outsiders. Prima facie, a case for a probe was made out against Sinha, the court said while refraining from ruling on the merits of the allegations.
The court also told Verma take the Central Vigilance Commissioner into confidence during his probe and said RS Cheema, special public prosecutor in the case before the trial court, would provide legal assistance.
“The case is in public interest and we hope the director will investigate it earnestly,” the top court said.
The coal scam involved alleged corruption in the allocation of coalfields between 2004 and 2009. The Comptroller and Auditor General, in 2012, pegged the loss from the scam at around R1.86 lakh crore. That figure has often been contested by experts, but the public outcry over the scandal helped usher in certain small-bore reforms in the coal sector, including the introduction of e-auctions.
In 2014, based on a PIL, the Supreme Court had ordered a court-monitored CBI probe and quashed the “illegal and arbitrary” allocation of 214 coal blocks made by the Centre between 1993 and 2010.
A year later, a preliminary inquiry was ordered against Sinha on an application filed by NGO Common Cause who alleged that he, as the CBI head, had met several of the accused when the agency was investigating the scam. The visitors’ book at Sinha’s official residence was submitted in support of the accusations. The inquiry was headed by former CBI special director ML Sharma.
The meetings triggered suspicion that Sinha tried to influence the probe into the alleged collusion between government officials and private companies for under-priced sale of coalfields.
In July last year, the Sharma panel informed the court that Sinha’s meetings with the accused were “completely inappropriate”.