New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the central government, the CBI and Essar on a PIL seeking a court-monitored probe into the politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus exposed in email leaks that showed a company allegedly granted gifts and favours to ministers and bureaucrats for promoting its business.
A bench of Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice R. Banumathi issued notice on the plea by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) seeking a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the nexus. Essar allegedly gave gifts and extended other favours to promote its business interests.
The notice is returnable in six weeks.
The CPIL in its petition sought a court-monitored investigation by an SIT or the CBI into the “high level of political-bureaucratic-corporate nexus wherein corporates use their money power to change public policies, plant questions in parliament, get access to internal government documents/cabinet papers, grant favours to politicians and bureaucrats for receiving benefits in return, and plant stories in news media”.
Before issuing the notice, the court enquired from CPIL counsel Prashant Bhushan about the source of his information. As Bhushan described the source as a whistleblower, the court asked him if he could disclose the source to the court in a sealed cover.
Bhushan told the court that the whistleblower, a former Essar employee, was already being threatened and police had visited him without any reason. Bhushan told the court that the whistleblower was receiving threats that his activities could have repercussions for his family.
“He (whistleblower) has already been threatened. I have told the lawyers of the company that if anything happens to him, I will hold a press conference and expose everything,” Bhushan told the court.
Asked if there was co-relation between the people who got the gifts and discharge of their duties, Bhushan said that was not required as under Section 11 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, a mere act of receiving favours was enough to attract punishment.
Bhushan said Section 11 of the act says: “Whoever, being a public servant, accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain for himself, or for any other person, any valuable thing without consideration, or for a consideration which he knows to be inadequate, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.”
He told the court that Sriprakash Jaiswal was the coal minister when he sought employment for the people recommended by him. He said that as coal minister, Jaiswal gave coal blocks to Essar, which has multiple businesses like steel and oil. Referring to one of the emails, Bhushan said the corporate had earmarked 200 jobs to accommodate people recommended by the power centres. He said three out of 10 recommended by the power centre were accommodated by Essar.
The court enquired what would happen if they (those named) come forward and say that the emails were fabricated, to which Bhushan said that was why he made Essar a party and he was only asking for investigation. Comparing the leaks with the tapes of former corporate lobbyist Neera Radia, Bhushan said it was a sophisticated way of influence paddling.