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Mainstream, VOL LI No 21, May 11, 2013

On SC’s Plainspeak, Fresh Revelations

Saturday 11 May 2013

COMMENTARY

The Supreme Court has come out with several strictures against the CBI and PMO on May 8 while charging the UPA Government with having changed the ‘heart of the report’ on the investigation into the coal scam. In this situation the continuance of the Union Law Minister, Ashwani Kumar, in his post has become untenable even as the PM is backing him to the hilt. As we go to press, it is learnt that the Congress is getting ready to have him removed despite the PM’s insistence on retaining Kumar and a decision to that effect will be taken shortly.

Simultaneously Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s position has considerably weakened with fresh revelations that the key accused in the ‘jobs-for-sale’ scam in the Railway Ministry, Vijay Singla, Bansal’s nephew, had boasted of his family connection with the Railway Minister in his phone conversations. The CBI sources have claimed that in one of the phone intercepts Singla was heard telling one Sandip Goel that Mahesh Kumar, the Railway Board member now in jail, needn’t worry since ‘mama’ (Bansal) was already on board. Singla was trying to compel Kumar to pay Rs 10 crores in exchange for his appointment as Member (Electrical) of the Board. [Bansal had earlier claimed that Singla had acted on his own and not been able to influence any decision. The afore-mentioned telephonic conversation conclusively negates that assertion.] In the light of these revelations continuance of Bansal in the Union Cabinet would also hurt the UPA Government beyond measure.

The Supreme Court’s observations on May 8 are a scatching attack on the functioning of the CBI and Union Government. These are, inter alia, as follows:

The CBI is a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice. It’s a sordid saga of many masters and one parrot.

The whole direction of the probe...the heart of the report was changed on suggestions of government officials.

The two gentlemen from the Coal Ministry and PMO had no business to visit the CBI office to peruse the report. How on earth could you (CBI) make it available when the report was to be given to the court?

The CBI didn’t reveal to us if the two Joint Secretaries took a copy of the draft report on March 6. It can’t be that they have Shakuntala Devi’s memory that they remembered exactly what changes to suggest on March 7.

No substantial progress has been made in the probe since registration of the case.

It pains us to see the CBI Director submits that regular interaction between investigating officers and ministry officials continues. Is the job of the CBI to interact or interrogate? Why did the CBI agree to the amendments?

No one should interfere with the CBI probe. In fact nobody should even show interest in the CBI’s investigations...The CBI must know how to stand up against all pulls and pressures by the government and its officials.

We gave the CBI a structure of stone (in the Vineet Narain case) but 15 years later it seems the CBI is all sand.

There was a meeting of the Union Cabinet on May 9 that was not attended by Bansal. That was indicative of his being dropped from the Cabinet. As for Ashwani Kumar, he is expected to be removed from the Law Ministry and given some other portfolio.

Needless to underscore, the Supreme Court’s strictures and the new revelations on Bansal’s alleged personal involvement in the Railway scam have dealt grievous blows to the UPA Government. Prompt action to remove the two Ministers—Ashwani Kumar and P.K. Bansal—could have minimised the damage. But due to the delay in taking such action it cannot escape the inevitable political consequences. At the same time there is a strong possibility of the PM coming in the line of fire once Ashwani goes out of the Law Ministry since under scrutiny are the coal block allocations made during Dr Manmohan Singh’s tenure as the Coal Minister.

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