The Supreme Court’s direction to the CBI to probe the agency’s former director Ranjit Sinha on allegations that he tried to scuttle probe and protect some of the accused in the coal scam that surfaced during UPA rule makes him the first director of the investigating agency to be the subject of a probe by an agency that he headed. Significantly, the three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur said it was prima facie satisfied that Sinha had abused his position and authority.
The court directed CBI chief Alok Verma to set up a special investigation team (SIT) under his leadership to conduct the inquiry. On the time the CBI has taken to probe the case, the court said: “This cannot go on. When will it end? You can’t keep asking for time forever.” CBI senior advocate Amarendra Sharan said field investigations into all FIRs in the case had been completed. Charge sheets had been filed in most cases, he said, adding: “A robust system of investigation is in place.”
Sinha had earlier faced the ignominy of being restrained from handling 2G spectrum and coal scam cases. That was during UPA rule. This time around, the court found that the cases were just not making progress and decided to order the probe into Sinha’s tampering with investigations.
The apex court said it would deal on January 30 with issues over conflict of interest of CBI officers dealing with the case. The issue of whether the coal case accused can approach the high court for discharge or quashing of the charges against them will be dealt with on February 20.
The alleged irregularities in the Coal scam came to light when a visitors’ diary revealed that Sinha had ‘privately’ met some of the high-profile accused in the scam several times at his residence. The diary had been placed in court by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan who had sought a SIT probe against Sinha. The former CBI director had accepted that he had met some of the accused but had defended it on the ground that the meetings were to understand their point of view. This plea had, however, been rejected by the court because he had not invited the CBI investigating officer for the meetings which gave the impression of being hush hush. It would indeed be in the fitness of things for the Supreme Court to also probe if Sinha was taking directions from or reporting the meetings to somebody in the then UPA government. It is heartening that the court has taken the initiative to get to the root of Sinha’s involvement. The slow pace at which the 2G and coal scam cases have been moving makes one wonder whether there was a design in the conduct of the investigations.