‘Heart’ of Coalgate report changed: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has questioned the credibility of CBI probe into the coal scam and has asked for a thorough and qualitative investigation.

Expressing strong displeasure at govt’s interference in the Coalgate probe report, according to the apex court said, “the heart of the report was changed on the suggestions of the govt officials.”

“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.

Raising questions on the independence of CBI, the apex court called it a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”.

The court making a scathing comment on the functioning of the investigating agency said, “It’s a sordid saga that there are many masters and one parrot.”

Asking the govt to make CBI impartial, the apex court said it needs to be ensured that the CBI functions free of all external pressures.

If the CBI is not made independent, we will step in, the SC observed.

“Job of CBI is not to interact with government officials but to interrogate to find the truth,” the SC said. The judges remarked that the CBI must know how to stand up against all pulls and pressures by government and its officials.

Commenting on law minister Ashwani Kumar’s role, the apex court said that a minister can ask for a report but can’t interfere with the CBI probe.

The court questioned how the CBI could have regular interactions with the ministry officials.

Slamming the action of joint secretaries who saw the probe report, the SC said, What business does the two joint secretaries have in visiting the CBI office?

Defending his role, attorney general GE Vahanvati said, “My meeting with CBI officials took place only on suggestions of the law minister.”

I have neither asked nor got CBI’s probe report in coal scam,the attorney general said.

The apex court observations came on CBI director Ranjit Sinha’s second affidavit filed on Monday, stating that law minister Ashwani Kumar and senior officials of the PMO and coal ministry had made changes in the Colagate probe report.

Ranjit Sinha in his nine-page affidavit to SC had given details of series of meetings with Ashwani Kumar, Vahanvati, additional solicitor general Haren Raval and Shatrughna Singh and A K Bhalla, joint secretaries of the PMO and the coal ministry during which changes in the probe reports were suggested and made by them.

 

PTI

Crucial hearing in coal scam today in Supreme Court

The crucial hearing on Coalgate will take place today (May 8) in the Supreme Court which may pose some tough questions to the Centre following the CBI Director’s affidavit that the Law Minister and senior officials of the PMO and Coal Ministry had made significant changes in the probe report.

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is under attack from the opposition which is demanding his resignation over the issue, could find himself on a more sticky wicket if adverse remarks are made against him by the apex court.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati may find it difficult to justify his earlier claim made in the apex court that he was not aware about the contents of the status report, a statement belied by the CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s nine-page affidavit saying that AG had glanced through the report and changes were made in it on his suggestion.

A three judge bench headed by Justice R M Lodha, which had pulled up the CBI for keeping it in the dark about the sharing of status report with government, will go through a second affidavit filed by Sinha giving details of the changes made and at whose instance these were done.

Sinha in his affidavit said that the minister made “certain changes” in the agency’s draft probe report on Coalgate and gave details of series of meetings with Kumar, Vahanvati, Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval and Shatrughna Singh and A K Bhalla, joint secretaries of the PMO and the Coal Ministry during which changes in the probe reports were suggested and made by them.

The CBI version contradicts reports of Kumar’s account that he was not involved in drafting the changes.

 

PTI

CBI status report shared with Law Minister: CBI Director to SC

Here in New Delhi an affidavit has been submitted by the CBI in Supreme Court stating that the coal scam status report prepared by the investigating agency was shared with the PMO and two concerned ministers before presenting it to the court on March 8.

CBI director Ranjit Sinha’s two-page affidavit filed on the direction of the apex court contradicts the claim made by CBI counsel on the last date of hearing that the coalgate scam report was not shared with any member of the government.

“I submit that the draft (status report)of the same was shared with law minister as desired by him prior to its submission before the Supreme Court….it was also shared with one joint secretary level officer each of Prime Minister’s office and ministry of coal as desired by them,” mentioned in the affidavit.

During an earlier hearing in the case, additional solicitor general Harin Raval had told the court that the March 8 probe report was not shared with the political executive.

The CBI affidavit says the report was shared with law minister Ashwani Kumar as per his request and the coal minister.

The affidavit further states that two joint secretaries had also seen the report.

A joint secretary level officer in the PMO had also desired to see the status report and his request was complied with, CBI director Ranjit Sinha says in the affidavit.

The CBI director also revealed that the status report was shared with a joint secretary in the coal ministry.

There has been a huge controversy after it was revealed that the govthad vetted the CBI status report.

The apex court had sought an affidavit from the CBI director on the issue.

BJP and other opposition parties have been demanding resignation of law minister Ashwini Kumar for allegedly interfering with the functioning of the CBI.

PMO sees 8,400 percent rise in RTI pleas

People are seeking answers, even if it means asking the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) some tough questions. The number of Right to Information (RTI) applications filed with the office have increased a whopping 8,402 percent in five years, say officials.

 

The number of RTI queries with the PMO rose from 48 in 2005 – when the act came into force – to over 4,000 applications in 2010, say information officials in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office.

 

PMO has received a total of 13,216 applications since October 2005, with the proposed anti-corruption Lokpal Bill attracting the maximum queries lately. The act empowers every citizen to seek any information from the government, inspect any government document and seek certified photocopies of those that have come into force.

 

“Since the RTI Act was mplemented, the number of RTI queries to the PMO has risen tremendously. The PMO had received 4,081 queries last year till December alone, compared to 48 applications filed in 2005,” the PMO’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) Sanjukta Ray told .

 

Despite being a three-member team, most of the RTI pleas have been dealt with.

 

“We are a small team with just three people but we managed to tackle thousands of RTI applications every year. As of now, we are piled with queries on the Lokpal Bill and applications based on news reports and current affairs,” she said.

 

According to the act, the public information officer (PIO) should respond within 30 days of the receipt of an application, failing which the applicant should make the first appeal to the appellate authority of the same department.

 

Ray said they do not have a large number of first appeals.

 

In 2006, the PMO received and cleared 743 RTI applications out of which 70 went for first appeal. In 2007, there were 1,621 RTI applications out of which 127 went for the first appeal, in 2008, 2,286 applications and 276 first appeals, in 2009, 2,766 applications and 435 first appeals, and in 2010, 4,081 applications and 510 first appeals.

 

Ray also noted that they get a good number of “non-valid” applications, which should be addressed to other officials.

 

“For example, a person from Chhattisgarh sent an RTI application on an issue related to the collector of a particular district and asked us to help him out to get the information,” she said.

 

About the method of working of her team which comprises her and two subordinates, Ray said they process the applications and try to seek information from the departments concerned.

 

“We take a list of applications which are to be answered in eight days and check out how much information has been received and if it’s not received, we try to get the information from the department sought by the applicant.”

 

Apart from the PMO, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) has processed 14,292 applications in the last five years, a finding of RTI applicant Lokesh Batra revealed.

 

“Compared to other public authorities, the DoPT takes a lot of time to respond. DoPT has 47 central public information officers (CPIO), while other ministries and departments have only one to look into the RTI applications,” Batra told.

 

Each CPIO has handled just 276 queries over a span of five years, Batra noted.

 

Whencontacted one of the CPIOs and asked the reason for delays in the processing of RTI applications, he declined to comment.

 

The external affairs ministry received 3,765 applications in the last five years. Out of these, the maximum number, 946, were filed in 2007.

 

The findings also showed that even though the external affairs ministry received a lesser number of applications compared to many other public authorities, there were 652 cases in which the applicants did not receive information or were not satisfied with the quality of information received and filed first appeals with the ministry.

 

“Although the MEA has a full time CPIO of joint secretary rank, it is still not efficient in giving out details,” Batra claimed.

 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has received 6,175 RTI applications from April 2006 to November 2010. The maximum number of applications (2,019) were filed

in 2009-10.

 

PMO files affidavit in apex court

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday warned that no one found guilty of wrongdoing will be spared, but refrained from making any direct personal remark on the alleged scam over the allocation of second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum.Also Saturday the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) filed an affidavit in Supreme Court giving details of the letters it received from former MP Subramanian Swamy seeking sanction to prosecute former telecom minister A. Raja and its response to those letters.

Addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here, his first public remarks on the issue after Raja’s resignation, Manmohan Singh said: ‘We are ready to discuss all issues in parliament. We are not afraid of discussion.’

He urged all political parties to let parliament function and carry forward the process. Both the houses had to be adjourned for three days following persistent opposition row.’As far as allocation of 2G spectrum is concerned, parliament is in session. I would not like, therefore, to make any detailed statement,’ Singh said during a brief question-answer session after his 20-minute speech.’But there should not be any doubt in anybody’s mind if any wrong thing has been done by anybody, he or she will be brought to book. For all this to happen, in a democracy, I think, we have to allow parliament to function,’ he said.

The PMO filed the 10-page affidavit in response to the Supreme Court’s direction Thursday. The bench comprising Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly had made remarks about the ‘inaction and silence’ of ‘the most competent authority’ over the matter.

At the summit, the prime minister said a resurgent and growing India required younger people in power. The country must leverage the advantage of a young population to emerge as the leader in global innovation, he observed.

Singh said his government had declared 2010-2020 as the decade of innovation and it was ‘putting together a roadmap for innovation.’He promised an environment that will help India attain a nine percent growth next year, expanding further to double-digit levels in the medium term, but said challenges too needed to be addressed.’We were among the few countries that recovered quickly from the after-effects of the global economic crisis,’ the prime minister told the summit, adding India, although affected, handled the crisis better than others.