Will retain right to okay CBI probes: Centre to SC

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 17, 2013 15:40 hrs

New Delhi: The government Wednesday told the Supreme Court that its power to grant or hold back sanction to allow a CBI probe against officials facing corruption charges could not be diluted even in matters being monitored by the court.

The government response came during a hearing on two public interest litigations related to coal blocks allocation when the court asked why its (government's) sanction was necessary for probe against officials in corruption cases being monitored by the court.

Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph: "I can't agree as a matter of principle. It will have serious consequences."

"It would apply to all the cases before the (apex) court and the high court across the board. The practical effect of what court was saying will be very serious," he said.

Justice Lodha said that all these problems were arising because earlier it was believed that "every act of the government was done in good faith. Now it is reverse that every act of the government is done in bad faith. These problems have arisen because we don't trust anybody".

Vahanvati told the court that generally there would be no denial of sanction to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and in exceptional cases if it would be so it would be accompanied with reasons that could be reviewed by the court.

The court July 10 asked the government why its sanction was necessary in respect of "court monitored" or "court-directed investigations".

Vahanvati told the court that a preliminary enquiry could be registered by the CBI but when an official was named as an accused then government sanction was required for the probe.

The court recalled that when this provision was being debated in the Rajya Sabha the then members of the house Fali Nariman and P.C. Alexander strongly objected to the insertion of Section 6A saying that it took away the "entire heart" of the Act.

"This exercise is not limited to this (coal blocks allocation) case alone. This issue concerns general tendency" of the government in the grant of sanction under Section 6A, the court observed as a counsel sought limiting the dilution of the government's power to grant sanction to the coal blocks allocation case only.

The court was hearing public interest litigation petitions related to allocation of 230 coal blocks between 1993-2005 and 2006-2009. Fortyfive coal blocks were allocated by the screening committee route between 1993-2005 and 85 were allocated between 2006- 2009. A hundred coal blocks were allocated from 1993-2009 under the government dispensation. Of this, 37 were allocated between1993-2005 and 63 between 2006- 2009.

Appearing for the NGO Common Cause, counsel Prashant Bhushan said: "How can it be said that the government can prevent the CBI from investigating an officer in a corruption case even when the matter is being monitored by the apex court."

The court perused the affidavit filed by the CBI offering its response to the government proposals to amend the DSPE Act to grant independence to the probe agency and insulate it from political interferences.

"No institution should be individual centric. It should have institutional framework for its working. Institution is perennial and permanent," Justice Lodha said on the CBI seeking a minimum tenure of three years for its director.

The court also did not take a favourable view of the probe agency's plea for sharing information with the government while seeking sanction to proceed against officials or other functionaries.

Adjourning the matter, the court said the hearing relating to the independence of the probe agency would be taken up Aug 10 and the main matter of the alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks would be taken up Sep 10.

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