Respond to allegations that you met accused: SC to CBI chief Ranjit Sinha

The Supreme Court Monday asked CBI director Ranjit Sinha to respond to allegations by an NGO CPIL saying that he has been frequently meeting accused in 2G case and others being probed by the investigating agency.

The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice designate Justice H.L. Dattu while giving a week’s time to the CBI director to respond to the allegations, said “we want a fair trial (in 2G cases) and if averment (made by Centre for Public Interest Litigation) is true, then there is some derailment of the trial. Then how can you call it a fair trial.”

The court also asked petitioner advocate Kamini Jaiswal on Ranjit Sinha’s plea that the affidavit filed by her, alleging acts of wrongdoing against him, were based on false statements or mis-statements.

In the meantime, counsel Prashant Bhushan handed over to the court what he described as an original copy of the entry register showing accused in 2G and other cases being probed by the agency were visiting the residence of CBI director.

He said that the register was handed over to him at night by strangers.

The court took the register in its custody.

Prior sanction needed for action against officials? SC reserves verdict

supreme courtThe Supreme Court Thursday reserved verdict on the validity of a legal provision that mandates the CBI to seek the government’s prior sanction before proceeding against an officer of the rank of joint secretary or above on charges of corruption.
However, the six-bench constitution bench said that if it had to invalidate section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act merely on the grounds of its being arbitrary, then the measure would be referred to a still larger constitution bench of seven judges as there were conflicting judgments on this count.
The constitution bench of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice A.K. Patnaik, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla was hearing a 2005 reference by a three judge bench on the validity of section 6A.
Making the reference to the constitution bench, the court in 2005 had said: “In short, the moot question is whether arbitrariness and unreasonableness or manifest arbitrariness and unreasonableness, being facets of article 14 of the Constitution of India are available or not as grounds to invalidate a legislation”.
Reference to the larger bench was made on a petition by politician Subramanian Swamy. The government has resisted the plea seeking to invalidate the section, contending that it needed to protect its senior ranking officers who were involved in crucial decision-making process and they could not be exposed to undue harassment and exercise of police powers by the CBI.
Holding that section 6A, far from frustrating the rule of law in fact furthers the rule of law, the central government has contended that the legislative provision can’t be negated by the courts on the grounds of arbitrariness or unreasonableness unless it violated any of the fundamental rights.
Seeking to demolish the government’s position, counsel Prashant Bhushan asked the court how could the government decide whether the sanction could be given or not when it is itself or its subordinate officers are under cloud.
He wondered why a private citizen could not lodge a complaint against a government officer under the Prevention of Corruption Act as it violated the citizen’s rights and principles under article 21. “Whether approval by the Lokpal and CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) would be sufficient in this matter,” the court inquired as Bhushan said why the government should decide and not the CVC or the Lokpal.

(Source: IANS)

SC to hear natural gas pricing matter March 4

supreme courtThe Supreme Court will hold March 4 hearing in the plea by Communist lawmaker Gurudas Dasgupta and NGO Common Cause seeking review of the government decision to hike the natural gas price from $4.2 to $8.4 million British thermal unit (mmBtu) from April 2014 .

Common Cause has sought a court monitored probe by a special investigation team or the Central Bureau of Investigation into increasing gas prices, giving retrospective tax benefits and not insisting on the relinquishment of gas blocks ion KG basin by the Reliance Industries.

Dasgupta has also sought as a halt to the arbitration proceedings to decide the issue.

While saying that the matter would be taken up for hearing on March 4, a bench of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the contending parties to complete the filing of rejoinders within two weeks.

At the outset of the hearing, Common Cause’s counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court that “this is an extremely urgent matter. If the decision to raise prices is implemented then it would cause a huge outflow of lakhs of crores of rupees”.

Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Dasgupta, too pressed for an early hearing.

Dasgupta has contended that government and Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily were working out a “strategy to use arbitration proceedings as a subterfuge and a pretence to take the contentious and public interest issues away from the scrutiny” of the apex court.

Common Cause has sought the quashing of the decision to increase the gas prices effective from April 2014 and the cancellation of the Production Sharing Contract.

Common Cause and other eminent people has also sought probe “into the high level collusion between RIL and the political establishment and the corruption involved, including on the aspects of not taking any action against RILfor hoarding the gas,…”

(Source: IANS)

Prashant Bhushan apologises to Supreme Court

Prashant BhushanThe Supreme Court took exception to counsel Prashant Bhushan’s comment that it was hesitant in taking action against Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, but later Wednesday accepted his apology that he did not intend to lower the esteem of the court or hurt judges.

The apex court bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha, hearing the matter of irregularities in coal allocation, capped the controversy as it recorded Bhushan’s statement: “I have highest regard for the court and if the statement of mine has hurt the court, I apologise.”

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Lodha said that when the extracts of the interview by Prashant Bhushan to a news magazine were brought to their notice, they were deeply hurt.

More so, because such a statement came from an arguing counsel and that too Prashant Bhushan.


SC to examine curbs on news on private FM radio

The Supreme Court, hearing a PIL by an NGO, Thursday said it will examine the rules that bar private FM radio channels and community radios from broadcasting news and current affairs.

It also issued notice on the issue to the central government, returnable in two weeks.

As a bench of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi heard the plea when counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, raised the question of how can the government restrict private FM radio channels from broadcasting news, as “community radio channels are easily accessible”.

As court issued notice, Chief Justice Sathasivam observed: “Radio is accessible to all. So we will examine this.”

Bhushan said that not everyone can afford to open a private TV channel, but people can open community radio stations and FM channels.

fm radioIn its PIL, Common Cause contended that the government’s policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements under which the private FM and community radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes on the same footing as television and print media, was illegal and violative of Article 19 (1) (a) (right to free speech and expression) of the Constitution.


The PIL said the successive government policy guidelines on the expansion of FM radio broadcasting services through private agencies have placed undue restraints on the broadcast of news and current affairs related content.


The restrictions, specified in the Policy Guidelines of FM Radio Services (Phase II & Phase III), say that no news and current affairs programmes are permitted under the Phase-II guidelines, but Phase III guidelines allow FM radios to disseminate news bulletins of All India Radio without any addition or modification.


Noting that the guidelines allowed broadcast of news on sports, traffic, weather, cultural events, education and employment, and public announcements made by local authorities on amenities like water and power supply, the PIL said: “Effectively, there is a ban on political news more than anything else, since many other kinds of news are allowed under the banner of ‘information’.”


Drawing a comparison with the freedom that FM radio channels and Community radios get in other countries, the PIL said: “None of the US’s 14,000-plus radio stations, the 2,000-odd stations in Spain or the 1,000-plus stations each in Italy, France, Greece and Australia is barred from airing news and related content.”


“In fact, many stations are solely news channels, including specialized ones for community radio,” the PIL said.


(Source: IANS)


Centre wants ban on nicotine-laced gutka, chewing tobacco

The government Tuesday pitched for a ban on all forms of chewing tobacco, gutka or supari laced with nicotine, saying these products fell under the prohibition prescribed under the food safety provisions.

“Gutka by its definition is a food added with nicotine and flavours” that is prohibited under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on sales) Regulations, 2011, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising told the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice C. Nagappan.

Jaising said all form of non-smoking tobacco products were being marketed by misbranding them as mouth fresheners which were in fact unsafe and poisonous.

“You say that they are misbranding,” court noted, asking Jaising: “How many cases you have filed against them?”

She said the burden of implementing the prohibition at the first level lay on industry, but it “does not mean if they don’t do it then the government will not act”.

The ASG told the court that through their misbranding the chewing tobacco companies were targeting “youth and poor people”.

Addressing the question from the tobacco industry as to why government was banning gutka and not the cigarettes, the ASG said there was a tendency that people generally didn’t use cigarettes because these were expensive and “culturally chewing tobacco in India is an acceptable norm”.

Appearing for NGO Indian Asthma Care Society, counsel Prashant Bhushan drew the attention of the court to the diseases like cancer caused by chewing tobacco.

The court would next hear the case Oct 4.

(Source: IANS)

Natural resources are also for future generations: SC

The Supreme Court Wednesday said the right to life belongs not only to the present generation but also the future generations when it comes to the exploitation of natural resources.

“It is not just right to life of present generation but also of the future generations,” said the apex court green bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik, Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice F.M.I Kalifulla as it was told of the rampant iron ore mining that had taken place in Goa.

Holding that mining activities should be “legal, in accordance with the rule of law and in conformity with the constitution”, the court observed that inter-generational equity has been spoken of many a time by the apex court but its parameters have not been spelt out.

The court’s observation came in the course of the hearing of a petition filed by NGO Goa Foundation which has sought that the mining leases should not be renewed in the state till a cumulative environment impact assessment was done by an expert group.

Appearing for the NGO, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court that 97 percent of the iron ore mined from Goa was not used for domestic consumption. Comparing the mining companies with vultures, Bhushan told the court that these companies had not only destroyed the forest, water bodies, agriculture and bio-diversity but also harmed tribals.

Bhushan told the court that all that the state government got by way of royalty was Rs.61 for a tonne of legally mined iron ore. “It does not add to the revenue of the state. If it substantially adds to the revenue of the state, then it can be used in the social sector,” Justice Patnaik said.

Bhushan said the miners were involved in multiple violations of leases. The lease holders were issued notice by the Goa government a year back but no follow up action was taken.

Bhushan said that Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikar as the then leader of opposition and head of the state legislature’s Public Accounts Committee gave a very strong report but now as the chief minister he was singing a different tune.

“If you are on this side (opposition), you oppose, if you are in government you govern. This is all in democracy,” remarked Justice Patnaik.

(Source: IANS)

NGO asks SC to cancel all coal block allocations

The Supreme Court should cancel all the coal blocks allocated to private and public sector companies in a non-transparent and unfair manner and in violation of rules, a petitioner said Thursday.

Petitioner NGO Common Cause has sought the cancellation of coal blocks allocated to state-owned companies which had in turn entered into joint venture agreements with the private companies conceding substantial gains to the latter.

While the June 16, 2004 coal secretary’s note favouring competitive biddings was being tossed up and down in the power corridors, the government between 2006-09 allocated 150 coal blocks to its favoured few, said counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO.

The apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph was told that what could have been achieved by an administrative order was allowed to hang for years and the intervening period was used to allocate coal blocks at whims.

The court was told that the allocations were in breach of the provision of Coking Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act and the coal blocks were also given to those proposing to supply coal to companies engaged in production of iron and steel, power generation and cement and even to those who proposed to enter these sectors.

“In flowing Ganga who does not want to wash hands,” observed Justice Lodha, as Bhushan said that it was like government distributing largesse to its “cronies” and favoured few.

Bhushan referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation FIRs which said that crimes under the Prevention of Corruption Act were committed during the allotment of coal blocks.

“The arbitrary allocation of coal blocks resulted in a windfall gain to few private parties running into lakhs of crores of rupees, and a corresponding loss to the public exchequer,” he said.

Addressing the query from the court about the interplay between the Coking Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 and the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, Bhushan told the court that though under the latter law the coal mines belonged to the states but their recommendation for allocation needed the consent of the central government.

“The state governments tacitly agreed to the centre’s recommendations,” observed Justice Lokur, as Bhushan hinted at a give and take between states and the central government.

The court would next hear the matter Tuesday.

(Source: IANS)

SC asks why agencies sat over Radia tapes

radiaThe Supreme Court Wednesday wondered why the agencies that knew about instances of illegalities that surfaced in former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s tapped phone calls in 2009 did not act for four years.

The court’s observation came as it perused the files of the Income Tax Department relating to Radia tapes that gave details of its communication between the Central Bureau of Investigation pointing to wrongdoing and instances of corporates influencing policy changes to suit their interests.

Observing that it was not talking about one issue but on multiple issues on which questionable activities had taken place but they were not looked into and the entire focus was on 2G case.

“It is most surprising that in the first communication they talk of conspiracy…We are unable to understand and appreciate this…,” observed an apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice V. Gopala Gowda.

The court said the “material now available is much more than 2G”.

As court gave expression to its bewilderment over the inaction of the investigating agencies over the last four years, since they were in the know of the content of the tapes, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court that “some conversations are in public domain since 2010. Some show apparent criminality. Action could have been taken”.

Appearing for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, Bhushan said that it clearly showed that “persons involved are so powerful that no one wants to take action”.

The issue surfaced after Radia phones were put under surveillance by the Income Tax department.

Radia’s phones were put under surveillance by the Income Tax department after the finance ministry Nov 16, 2007 received an anonymous letter alleging that in a short span of few years she had built a business house of Rs.300 crore. The complaint had also alleged foreign connections of Radia.

The Income Tax department put Radia’s phone under surveillance thrice for 60 days each between 2008-09.

While petitioner industrialist Ratan Tata has moved the court seeking to cap the tapes, the CPIL has sought direction to make these tapes public except for the portion which was private in nature.

The CPIL said that contents of the tapes revealed how decision making process in the government was influenced by the powerful people.

(Source: IANS)

SC nod sufficient to probe corrupt officials: CBI

The CBI Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it did not require the government’s sanction for a corruption probe against public servants in court-monitored cases but the government disagreed with this.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told an apex court bench of Justice RM Lodha, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph it would file an application seeking its go-ahead to begin investigating an officer suspected of wrongdoing in the allocation of coal blocks.

 Senior counsel Amarendra Saran, appearing for the CBI, sought to keep the government away from the process of giving sanction for investigating public servants facing corruption allegations but Attorney General GE Vahanvati said the court could seek the stand of government on such a plea.

Saran’s suggestion came in the course of the hearing on pleas related to the coal blocks allocation matter.

Appearing for Centre for Public Interest Litigation, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court that since the CBI worked under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission there was no need for it to take sanction from the government.

The court would next hear the case Aug 29. It court asked the CBI to file three status reports on coal blocks allocation by Aug 27.

Vahanvati strongly resisted the suggestion from the court that in cases monitored by it there was no need for the government’s sanction to proceed against the high ranking officers.

“Once the departure is there in extraordinary circumstances (court ordering investigation and monitoring it) why you want to come back to 6A (section of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act mandating sanction by the government). There is no justification for the government’s sanction in court-monitored cases”, Justice Lodha told Vahanvati.

Urging the court to “achieve the same goal without involving constitutional and other legal questions”, Vahanvati told the court that the “fact that the court would be looking into the government’s order of granting or holding back the sanction would be sufficient check on the authorities.

The court asked him: “When court is monitoring the investigation, is it not a sufficient check on the CBI that it should not go about its investigation in an arbitrary way.”

“There should not be any apprehension that the CBI would investigate unfairly,” Vahanvati was told.

“Merely because the constitution bench is looking into the validity of DSPE Act, it does not mean that till it had considered it that the court can’t look into different diverse aspect and facets emerging from that provision,” Justice Lodha said.

The court’s remark came after the attorney general told the court that the issue of validity of section 6A was pending before the constitution bench.

(Source: IANS )