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CBI says 'shared' coal blocks probe, sets off political storm

Friday April 26, 2013 11:33:06 PM, IANS

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Government in deep crisis over CBI affidavit on coal mines

The beleaguered Manmohan Singh government Friday appeared to be in deep political crisis after the opposition demanded Law Minister Ashwani Kumar's resignation for vetting a CBI affidavit meant  


New Delhi: Setting off a political storm and putting the government on the backfoot, the CBI Friday told the Supreme Court that its status report on investigations into coal blocks allocation was "shared" with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the coal ministry.

The disclosure of CBI director Ranjit Sinha immediately set off an opposition clamour for the law minister's resignation for allegedly interfering in the functioning of the premier investigating agency. An aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Sinha's statement "exposes" the government.

Ashwani Kumar, the man in the eye of the storm, said he has "not done any wrong" and "truth will prevail". The government has ruled out his resignation and defended him.
The government is trying to buy time till April 30 when the apex court is expected to pass an order in the case of faulty coal block allocations.

The development comes as the government is facing the opposition's heat on the Joint Parliamentary Committee's 2G probe, which cleared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the spectrum allocation. This sets the stage for a fierce opposition onslaught in the remaining two weeks of parliament's budget session.

In the midst of all this, Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi held discussions with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies. They also discussed ways to break the logjam in parliament over various issues, including coal blocks and 2G.

In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the CBI director Ranjit Sinha said: "I submit that the draft of the same (March 8 status report) was shared with honourable union minister for law and justice as desired by him prior to its submission before the honourable court."

The two-page affidavit revealed that "besides the political executive, it was also shared with one joint secretary level officer each of the Prime Minister's Office and ministry of coal, as desired by them".

On March 12, the apex court had ordered that every status report of the investigating agency on its probe on coal allocation be personally vetted by the CBI director and its contents not shared with the political executive.

However, the CBI director, in his affidavit, also told the court that the investigating agency's status report of April 26 has been personally vetted by him and not shared with anyone, including the political executive.

Sinha promised the court that henceforth the probe's status reports in the coal scam will not be shared with the political executive.

The opposition came down heavily on the Congress-led government, blaming it for interfering in the CBI's work, with Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley saying the government has been caught with its "pants down".

"Government has really been caught with its pants down," Jaitley told NDTV.

"This has gone well beyond the law minister now. The Prime Ministers Office must explain in what context was a PMO official shown the draft of the coal report. The affidavit has smashed claims of no interference by government. The buck stops with the Prime Minister's Office," he said.

Highly-placed sources said that the CBI shared the status report as it was probing the private firms which allegedly misrepresented their information while applying for coal licenses.

"As the prime minister was then the coal minister (in UPA-I), the CBI had to discuss the case with the Prime Minister's Office. The law minister is the highest law officer of the land so they had to discuss it with him too," sources told IANS.

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh said "whatever applies to the law minister applies to the PM as well. If the Prime Minister goes, the government goes."

Terming the law minister's interference "illegal", Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said: "It is very atrocious and unprecedented. It is astonishing that the law minister, who is the custodian of the law, has himself done such an illegal work."

But, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said there was no question of the law minister resigning.

"The CBI director has clearly said that the draft report was seen by the law minister and not the final report. There is no question of him (Ashwani Kumar) resigning," Kamal Nath told reporters here.

"There is a question of content (of the report) and much is provided by the coal ministry, PMO and the law ministry. The CBI procured the content and made a final report. The final report has not been seen by the political executive," Kamal Nath said.







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