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SC forwards to CVC: 'Completely inappropriate' for CBI boss to have met alleged coal scammers

In a setback to former CBI director Ranjit Sinha, the Supreme Court on Thursday termed as “inappropriate” his meetings with some of the accused in the coal block allocation scam at his official residence.

“It was inappropriate for Ranjit Sinha to have met the accused persons at his residence,” the bench of Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice AK Sikri said in its order on Thursday.

The court referred the matter to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) for its opinion about further course of action in the matter.

The court said that since it was “completely inappropriate” for the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) chief to have met people accused in the coal block allocation case without the investigating officer or the investigating team being present, it was necessary to look into the question whether any one or more such meetings have had any impact on the investigation and subsequent charge sheets or closure reports filed by the CBI

“We require assistance in this matter, particularly for determining the methodology for conducting such an inquiry. For rendering assistance to us in this regard, notice be issued to the CVC returnable on July 6.”

Rejecting as “fallacious” the investigating agency’s plea that any adverse order on the plea by NGO Common Cause would “irreparably damage the credibility of the CBI”, the court said: “If an independent inquiry shows that the CBI has acted fairly, it will enhance its institutional credibility and its image.”

The court, however, said if the independent inquiry showed that Sinha “managed to influence some specific investigations in the coal block allocation case, it will serve the larger public interest and will enable the CBI to take appropriate corrective and remedial measures.

“Either way, through an independent inquiry, the CBI will be the beneficiary rather than the loser.”

Declining the plea by the NGO for a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the meetings, the court also rejected Sinha’s plea for initiating proceedings against counsel Prashant Bhushan on the allegation of perjury.

Rejecting Sinha’s plea that Bhushan and Kamal Kant Jaswal of the NGO be proceeded against for perjury and violation of the Official Secrets Act, the court said that by the order of May 8, 2013, it was incumbent upon the CBI director that the “secrecy of the inquiries and investigations into the allocation of coal blocks is maintained”.

“However, if somebody accesses documents that ought to be carefully maintained by the CBI, it is difficult to find fault with such a whistleblower... particularly when his or her action is in public interest.

“It is another matter if the whistleblower uses the documents for a purpose that is outrageous or that may damage the public interest.”

The bench said if it was so, “it would be permissible for this court or an appropriate court to take action against the whistleblower, if he or she is identified”.

However, it said the present case was not of any such category, as the whistleblower acted purportedly in public interest by seeking to bring out what he or she believed was an attempt by Sinha “to scuttle the investigations” in the coal block allocation case.

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