Making a stinging criticism of CBI and senior officials of the coal ministry and PMO, the Supreme Court today hauled them up for changing the "heart" of the Coalgate probe report but appeared to have given a breather for the Law Minister and the government for the time being.
Observing that CBI was like a "caged parrot", the court said it should stand up to all "pulls and pressures" and not share its probe with anyone including the Law Minister.
In a significant order after a three-hour hearing, the bench headed by Justice R M Lodha asked the government to make an effort to come out with a law before July 10 to insulate CBI from external influence and intrusion.
It also directed CBI not to share any report pertaining to the investigation in the coal blocks allocation scam with any officials or ministers other than those in its 33-member investigation team and the CBI Director.
"The heart of the report was changed on suggestions of government officials," the court said in an apparent reference to the raging controversy over the sharing of the draft status report with political executive and joint secretaries in the Coal ministry and the PMO.
The CBI action had triggered a major political controversy with Opposition, particularly BJP, demanding the sacking of Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
As a result, the "whole direction" of the probe was changed, the court said.
The court directed that immediate steps be taken by Centre and CBI to repatriate DIG Ravi Kant Mishra, who was the investigating officer in coal blocks allocation case and was shifted out to Intelligence Bureau.
Voicing concern over Centre's interference in the draft status report, the court pulled up joint secretaries of the PMO and coal ministry for meeting CBI officials and suggesting changes in the report.
"They have no business to interact with CBI. How can joint secretary go through the probe report?," the bench asked while noting that the CBI was supposed to interrogate officials of the Coal Ministry for alleged wrongdoings.
The CBI also drew heavy flak from the bench, which dubbed the agency as a "caged parrot speaking in master's voice".
"It's a sordid saga that there are many masters and one parrot," the bench said after going through the nine-page affidavit of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha.
In his affidavit, Sinha had told the court that Law Minister Ashwani Kumar had made certain "significant changes" in the agency's draft probe report on Coalgate, while top law officers and government officials, including those from the PMO, had suggested amendments.
Sinha had detailed at least four changes, two made by the Law Minister and two by joint secretaries of PMO and Coal ministry Shatrughna Singh and A K Bhalla respectively.
"CBI must know how to stand up against all pulls and pressures by government and its officials," the bench, which also comprised Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said.
The bench observed that job of CBI is not to interact with government officials but to carry out interrogation to find out the truth.
The CBI Director, as also the investigating team, should have stood up and denied any access to the two joint secretaries of the PMO and Coal Ministry to the report, it said.
The bench wanted to know whether the Law Minister can ask CBI to show details of probe or status report in a case involving people of other ministries and the PMO.
"Does it not subvert the integrity of the investigation if changes are brought in status report on suggestion of Law Minister and government officers?," it asked the CBI.
The court said it will consider various aspects, including setting up of an SIT to look after the probe into coal blocks allocation scam.
CBI Director must ensure that no access of its report on Coalgate should be given to any person, including the Law Minister, other Union ministers, law officers, CBI counsel and department of prosecution of CBI, the bench said.
Attorney General G E Vahavati, who had submitted before the court earlier that he had not seen the CBI report, today stuck to his stand.
"I have neither asked, nor got the CBI's probe report in coal scam," he told the bench.
"My meeting with CBI officials took place only on suggestions of the Law Minister," he said about the March 6 meeting at Kumar's office in which the CBI Director as also the joint secretaries of the PMO and coal ministry were present.
In his affidavit, the CBI Director had stated that "a few changes were also done on the suggestion of the AG and officials of PMO and coal ministry".
Sinha, however, had asserted that neither the central theme of status reports got changed after meetings nor any deletion of any evidence against any suspect or accused took place.
During today's hearing, the bench said no substantial progress has been made in the coal scam probe after registration of the case.