Coal scam: Will the high-ups be probed?

Published: 07th May 2013 07:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th May 2013 07:08 AM   |  A+A-

Hedging on the likely Congress victory in the Karnataka elections, the  Congress party has decided to back Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar who has been caught in a blatant attempt to protect some sensitive person/s in the coal scam.

The CBI director has said that Ashwani not only saw the status report on the coal scam, which the CBI was supposed to submit in confidence to the Supreme Court, but he also tinkered with it so that it became as much Ashwani’s report as it is the CBI’s. Being not involved in the scam, Ashwani was not scoring out sentences and adding new ones in the report to save himself. It does not need a seer to say that he was doing it, certainly not out of compassion to protect some downtrodden, but only to  save some other persons higher-up. So the need to defend Ashwani  is understandable.

What if he does a Harin Raval for self-defence and points fingers at some one, up in the hierarchy. So the higher-ups are forced to  protect those exposed like Ashwani from acting in self-defence and  exposing others. The rule of self-defence is common to all living beings including the humans.  All animals act in self-defence except the loyal dogs, which risk their lives and protect even the cruel masters.

Sitaram Kesri, who was president of the Congress before Sonia Gandhi forcibly took over from him, described himself as the loyal dog of her family just months before he was deposed by the family as the president. The strength of the Congress -- read the ruling family -- is measured by the population of Kesris it boasts of. But with the Supreme Court looking into the core of the fraud, even such loyalty to the family seems to have come under stress like in the case of Raval.

Media reports said that the Congress circles in Gujarat, from where Raval hails, wondered what could have prompted a long-time loyalist like Raval to spill the beans at such a crucial juncture. Raval, the Additional Solicitor General and the CBI counsel in Supreme Court, felt betrayed by his master Attorney General(AG) Ghulam Vahanvati and was forced to tell the truth in self-defence.

In his letter to the  AG,  Raval has meticulously described the off-court events which capture the AG himself as a principal player in the cover-up. The crucial events on five dates -- January 24, April 6, 8, 12 and 24, 2013 -- have exposed the cover-up.

First, on January 24, Raval representing the CBI undertook to file an affidavit by the CBI on the state of the investigation into the coal scam and subsequently he and the AG met Ashwini where the AG advised against filing an affidavit and instead felt that the CBI should file a status report. So the AG, not the CBI or its counsel Raval, took the decision to change from affidavit to the status report. Second, on 6th March, Raval got a message from the AG to bring the status reports  of the CBI and meet him and Ashwani at  12.30 pm at the latter’s office.  At the meeting, one of the draft reports was shown by the CBI to Ashwani and the AG. Ashwani and the AG suggested to the CBI to change the report in some parts. As the AG had some other work, he asked Raval and  the CBI officials to meet him later that evening at 4.30 pm at his home office with  [nine] other status reports. In compliance, the CBI officials brought the drafts which were perused and settled by the AG in Raval’s presence.

Third, on  April 8, the AG was present when Raval mentioned to the court that the CBI would present the status report on April 12, 2013.

Fourth, on March 12, when the CBI submitted the sealed reports the AG, who was present in the court, told the judges that neither he nor any one in the government had seen the  CBI report.  Raval also corroborated that lie to the court. But suspecting foul play, the court asked the CBI director to file an affidavit confirming that the report was not shared with the government.

Fifth, on  April 26, the CBI director stunned the nation and the court by his affidavit which confirmed to the court what it had suspected, namely that the agency’s confidential report to the court was indeed shared with the  government. It now turns out that not only the  Law Minister and the AG, but also the Prime Minister’s Office had had a look at the CBI reports. With Raval’s client, the CBI proving Raval as a prevaricator, Raval angrily wrote to the AG about all that had happened, exposed him and resigned. This extraordinary cover-up by compromising the AG himself is unthinkable unless extraordinary  persons up in the hierarchy are to be protected. Who then are the likely targets up in the hierarchy?

The very fact that during the UPA’s first tenure, the fraudulent coal allocations were made when Manmohan was himself the coal minister for about three-and-a-half years makes him an inevitable target for probe. Moreover, even before the scam began in 2004,  coal secretary P C Parakh had brought to his(PM) notice the potential fraud inherent in the discretionary allocation of the captive coal fields and objected to it in writing. Manmohan agreed with him, he asked him to move to auctioning the coal fields in 2004 itself, but would not allow him to do it. And yet Manmohan  continued the fraudulent coal allocations to unqualified, disqualified, and non-existent entities. And these allocations are precisely the ones the Supreme Court has directed the CBI to probe. His direct responsibility as the Coal Minister makes the probe against the PM inevitable.

The CAG report fixed the cost of the fraudulent allocations at `1.86 lakh crore. That honest Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod  Rai is hounded by the ruling party and the Prime Minister himself also indicate their nervousness at the probe. The Prime Minister, the unavoidable target of the probe, is forced into a strong defence of Ashwani, obviously in his own interest. Media reports said that the CBI had filed an affidavit on Monday [May 6 2013] that officials of the PMO were indeed  involved in doctoring the CBI report along with the Law Minister, the AG and Raval. If true, this will fix the Prime Minister even more firmly. But the probe may not stop at the PMO or the PM if what the Mumbai Mirror reported on September 15, 2012 is to be investigated. A report bylined to a very senior journalist said that on August 31, Manmohan met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and told her that his office had cleared the questionable coal allotments on the recommendation of her political secretary Ahmed Patel, thus washing his hands of the tainted allotments and telling Sonia  that he had no role or interest in determining who the  beneficiaries should be. And laying the blame close at the party’s door, the PM said that his then principal secretary T K A Nair had merely coordinated  the allotments as desired by Patel. No Pundit is needed to say that Patel means Sonia herself. But who will investigate Manmohan  when he is the Prime Minister? And who will investigate Patel when Sonia is the president of the party which runs the government.

Will the Supreme Court be able to get the CBI to act against the two who run the country today? And even if it does, will the CBI truthfully act. Only the Supreme Court and the CBI can tell.

S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.




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