The Supreme Court bench of Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice AK Sikri and Justice Kurien Joseph on Monday directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted under the apex court’s order dated January 23 to probe the prima facie involvement of former CBI director Ranjit Sinha in the coal block allocation scam, to submit its status report to the Court within four weeks.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the present petitioner before the Supreme Court, NGO Common Cause, requested the court to direct the submission of the status report with regard to the investigation as several months have passed since the setting up of the SIT.
On the basis of an ‘entry register’ or ‘visitors diary’, the petitioner had contended that several accused in the said scam had, during the course of the CBI investigation therein, repeatedly met Mr. Sinha, the then Director of the CBI, at the former’s residence.
On May 14, 2015, the apex court had observed, “There cannot at all be any justification for Mr. Ranjit Sinha to meet any accused person in a criminal case where investigation is underway, without the investigating officer being present, whether it is in his office or as alleged by Mr. Prashant Bhushan, at his residence and that too, allegedly, several times including late at night. The fact that Mr. Sinha admittedly met some accused persons in the absence of the investigating officer or the investigating team is itself a cause for concern”.
The court had further remarked, “There is a very high degree of responsibility placed on an investigating agency to ensure that an innocent person is not subjected to a criminal trial. This responsibility is coupled with an equally high degree of ethical rectitude required of an investigating officer or an investigating agency to ensure that the investigations are carried out without any bias and are conducted in all fairness not only to the accused person but also to the victim of any crime, whether the victim is an individual or the state.”
“On January 23 this year, having procured the assistance of the Central Vigilance Commission and considered the report of a committee constituted under former CBI Special Director M. L. Sharma on the alleged impact of the said meetings on the investigations and subsequent charge sheets or closure reports filed by the CBI in relation to the scam, the bench had not felt the need to appoint an external, independent SIT to probe the abuse of authority committed by Mr. Sinha in his capacity as the CBI Director in the coal block allocation cases and other important cases. Instead the Court had decided to “continue to repose faith in the impartiality of the CBI to look into the report prepared by Mr. M.L. Sharma and other relevant documents and conduct an investigation (as a Special Investigating Team) into the abuse of authority prima facie committed by Shri Ranjit Sinha with a view to scuttle enquiries, investigations and prosecutions being carried out by the CBI in coal block allocation cases,” he said.
The SIT, led by CBI director Alok Verma, was to take the assistance of two officers of the CBI nominated by the director with due intimation to the court. Also, the CVC was to be taken into confidence in its investigation by the SIT. Further, senior counsel RS Cheema was asked to assist the SIT on legal issues. The matter is next listed for further hearing on January 15.