The Supreme Court on Thursday took strong exception to former CBI chief Ranjit Sinha’s meetings with people accused in the coal block allocation scam, saying a probe was necessary to ascertain if he tried to scuttle or influence the investigation.
A special bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur sought the Central Vigilance Commission's (CVC) assistance on how to conduct an inquiry against Sinha and come up with a response on July 6, the next date of hearing.
The bench said there was a merit in the allegations that Sinha met persons in the absence of investigating officers of the cases.
"It is inappropriate on the part of CBI director to meet persons in the absence of IOs," said the bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and AK Sikri.
“The fact that Sinha met some accused people without the investigating officer or team being present disturbs us with regard to the fairness of the investigations,” the court said, allowing NGO Common Cause’s application seeking a probe against Sinha.
It said an inquiry was imminent to ensure investigations have been fair in the coal scam.
Last year, the apex court ordered a court-monitored CBI inquiry into the alleged irregularities in coal blocks allocated during the UPA government’s tenure.
Common Cause has alleged that Sinha held meetings with those facing inquiry at his official Janpath Lane residence and submitted a visitor register as evidence.
Sinha never denied meeting some of the accused, including Vijay Darda and his son Devendra Darda. But he said there was no wrongdoing since he met them to know their versions.
The court dismissed Sinha’s plea seeking prosecution of Common Cause counsel Prashant Bhushan for alleged perjury.
Bhushan had filed the plea on behalf of the NGO, seeking a probe by a Special Investigating Team (SIT) against Sinha for alleged abuse of position for scuttling the probe into a coal block allocation scam case.
“If somebody accesses documents that ought to be maintained carefully by the CBI, it is difficult to find fault with such a whistleblower particularly when his action is in public interest,” it said, refusing to take action against Bhushan and other members of the NGO.
The bench had reserved its judgement on April 13 in the matter in which Sinha had claimed that a "hidden hand" was the "controlling mind" of Bhushan and had accused him of interfering and scuttling the probe into the coalgate.
The NGO, in its application, had submitted that since the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Delhi Police had not lodged an FIR on its November 25, 2014 complaint, there was a need for a court-monitored probe for alleged abuse of authority by Sinha as the then director of CBI.
However, Sinha had rejected the NGO's claim that he and a few other senior officers of the level of joint director repeatedly overruled the investigating officers (IOs) and forced them not to register FIRs/RCs in cases where Preliminary Enquiries had been registered and directed closure of the cases.
In the plea for perjury against the NGO and Bhushan, Sinha's counsel had said "there is not a single case in which Sinha overruled the unanimous opinion of the officers working under him with regard to recommending closure in which they have recommended conversion to a regular case".
"Thus, the falsity of the statement made before this Court is evident from this count alone."
(With PTI inputs)