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Under what law, Mr Khalap? - The Statesman

C R Irani ()
19 November 1997

Title: Under what law, Mr Khalap?
Author: C R Irani
Publication: The Statesman
Date: November 19, 1997

The Law Minister, Ramakant Khalap, has never hidden his light under a bushel. He has in many ways, all of them despicable, delayed action against Laloo Prasad Yadav, interfered in judicial procedures, campaigned to overcome the paramount role of the Chief justice of India in judicial appointments in favour of the Central Government and generally assisted in the abuses of power by Prime Minister Gujral. He performed the same service for Deve Gowda. Now he is to decide, himself and alone, whether Prafulla
Kumar Mahanta, Chief Minister of Assam, is to be prosecuted in the LoC scam investigated by the CBI. We are told that Mr Khalap will "obviously weigh the political implications before giving the final approval". Without much ado and entirely without respect, may I enquire under what provision of Law the Law Minister proposes to act?

The Final Report in the LoC scam is reported to be ready in the CBI. If they want legal advice they have in-house facilities; for weighty opinions there are the law officers of the Government - Solicitor-General and for truly important matters, the Attorney-General. On a previous occasion they went. from Attorney to Solicitor-General and down to an Additional Solicitor-General in search of the opinion they wanted. This time they go one better: having found the, law officers of one mind that Mahanta must
e charge-sheeted, they return to the CBI to discover differences of opinion among investigating officers and appeal to the Law Minister to give a final verdict. Let it be said plainly that he has no such jurisdiction; that he will also take into account political factors only adds insult to injury.

The Prime Minister is paying a lot of attention these days to the cell in his office to deal with corruption. His pet poodle the CBI Director, R C Sharma, is incapacitated in the AIIMS in Delhi following his failure to contain himself at Guwahati airport and it is officially announced that Mr D R Karthikeyan will officiate. Mr Sharma's devotion to duty, as he and his Prime Minister understand it, is such that "sensitive" files continue to be sent to him in hospital where a skeleton staff equipped with spe
ial telephones and any other trifle he may need is provided. No prizes are offered for guessing which cases Sharma insists on handling himself?.

In September 1997, Government appointed a three-member committee with Mr N N Vohra, a respected retired bureaucrat and currently Principal Secretary to the Prime

Minister, as Convenor with specific terms of reference. Para 3(ii)(a) requires them to examine "whether offences alleged to have been committed by any person, particularly those in positions of high authority, are registered, investigated and prosecuted fairly and expeditiously, ensuring against, inter alia, external pressure, arbitrary Withdrawals or transfers of personnel etc., and ensuring adequate protection to the concerned functionaries to effectively discharge their duties and responsibilities ".

Let me now apply these words to context. Offences allegedly committed by persons in high authority - Ashok Jain. Whether cases are registered, investigated and prosecuted fairly and expeditiously - Not on your life! Ensuring against external pressure - Orders from PMO do not arrest him, do not impound his passport, etc. Adequate protection to the concerned functionaries - There attempts to get rid of the Director of Enforcement, M K Bezbaruah or to box him in by appointing a pliant officer above him as Di
ector-General. Adequate protection to the concerned functionaries - IB raid on Enforcement Directorate to find out what they have on Ashok Jain.

Is there a chance therefore, that the three-man committee will come to worthwhile conclusions? Difficult, I would say, even without the conflict of interest. B G Deshmukh, former cabinet secretary, is one of the two members assisting Mr Vohra and Mr Deshmukh is Chairman of Times Bank which we are informed by a full page advertisement in the Economic Times of 27 October "is a part of the 150 year-old Times of India group" of Ashok Jain. I am further informed but this could be hearsay, that Mr Deshmukh is m
king anxious inquiries about the Ashok Jain investigations. This may be unfair to Mr Deshmukh but such glaring instances of conflict of interest should not arise.

I started with Mahanta, the LoC scam and Khalap. I hope you now have some idea of the Prime Minister's overall determination to stamp out corruption. I make bold to say that the Khalap sword of Democles will be hanging over Mahanta's head for a very long time. Mahanta may feel that even if Khalap decides against him - an irrelevant procedure - the Prime Minister must seek the sanction of the Governor of Assam. He would be unwise to count on it. Governor, Lt-Gen. S K Sinha is not Governor Kidwai in Laloo's

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