In first, ex-CBI director to be probed by incumbent
In a peculiar turn of events, Ranjit Sinha, who headed the country's premier investigating agency, will himself be the focus of an enquiry to ascertain whether he misused his power, the Supreme Court said on Monday. Sinha, as CBI chief, met at his home with several of the suspects accused of corruption and bribe-giving in the allocation of coal fields to private firms.
It is the new CBI chief, Alok Verma, who will be in charge of the investigation against Sinha, judges ruled on Monday. The probe will determine Sinha worked to thwart his agency's case against the people who he met privately as often as "50-60 times" according to earlier updates provided to the Supreme Court. Judges had last year accepted as authentic a visitors' book from Sinha's home furnished as evidence of inappropriate appointments in 2014 with those under investigation for serious criminal charges.
The Supreme Court on Monday constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the allegations of "abuse of authority" prima facie committed by him to scuttle investigation and enquiries in coal block allocation cases. A bench, comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A K Sikri, observed that a prima facie case has "definitely" been made out for probe into the abuse of authority by Sinha.
The apex court said the present CBI Director would head the special investigation team (SIT) which would look into the report of the apex court-appointed panel headed by M L Sharma, a former Special Director of the agency, that had prima facie indicted Sinha in the matter. "We have considered the issue whether an outside body of investigators should be appointed as the Special Investigating Team," the bench said in its four-page order.
"However, in our considered opinion, since there has been a change of guard in the CBI, we would continue to repose our faith in the impartiality of the CBI to look into the report prepared by M L Sharma and other relevant documents and conduct an investigation (as an SIT) into the abuse of authority prima facie committed by Ranjit Sinha with a view to scuttle enquiries, investigations and prosecutions being carried out by CBI in coal block allocation cases," it said.
However, the apex court made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of allegations levelled by the petitioner or on the contents of the report prepared by the Sharma panel.
"We make it clear that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits of the allegations made by the petitioner or make any comment on the contents of the report prepared by M L Sharma and his team, except to say that a prima facie case has definitely been made out for investigation into the abuse of authority by Ranjit Sinha in terms of the report," it said.
The apex court said the CBI Director may take assistance of two officers of the agency after duly intimating the court and also take the Chief Vigilance Commissioner into confidence in respect of the investigations.
The bench said that the special public prosecutor for coal scam cases, senior advocate R S Cheema, would assist CBI Director and his team on legal issues related to the matter.
"The SIT led by the Director, CBI may take the assistance of two officers of the CBI nominated by the Director with due intimation to this Court. The Director, CBI will also take the Chief Vigilance Commissioner into confidence in respect of the investigations," it said.
The bench said "Since the Director, CBI will undoubtedly require the assistance of somebody well conversant with the law, we request R S Cheema, who is already a special public prosecutor in coal block allocation cases, to assist the Director, CBI and his team on legal issues". The apex court also said the CBI Director would indicate on the next date of hearing about the composition of his team and the time required to complete the investigation.
"We need hardly emphasise that the matter is of considerable public importance and should be taken up with due earnestness by the Director, CBI," it said.
While referring to its May 14, 2015 order, the bench noted "we had held that it was completely inappropriate for Ranjit Sinha (then Director of the CBI) to have met persons accused in the coal block allocation cases without the investigating officer being present or without the investigating team being present".
"We were also of opinion that in view of this, it would be necessary to enquire whether any one or more such meetings that Sinha had with the accused persons had any impact on the investigations and subsequent charge sheets or closure reports filed by the CBI," the bench noted in the order.
During the pendency of proceedings, the court had also appointed a committee headed by M L Sharma and former central information commissioner to look into the allegations and Sharma had submitted a report on March 4 last year, it said.