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Ashwani Kumar made 2 'significant' deletions in coal report: CBI

Author: Utkarsh Anand
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 7, 2013
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/ashwani-made-2-significant-deletions-cbi/1112442/0

CBI Director Ranjit Sinha on Monday admitted to the Supreme Court that "significant" changes were made in the "final" status report on the coal blocks allocation case at the instance of Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.

Sinha also admitted that certain changes were made on the suggestions of Attorney General G E Vahanvati, then Additional Solicitor General H P Raval and officials of the Prime Minister's Office and Coal Ministry during the course of three meetings held on March 6 — two days before the report was submitted to the apex court.

However, Sinha, in his affidavit today, also claimed that sharing of the report and the changes made have "neither altered the central theme of the report, nor shifted the focus of inquiries or investigations in any manner."

The affidavit stated that "no names of suspects or accused were removed... no accused or suspects were let off in the process" and there was "no deletion of any evidence" against anyone.

While submitting that it was difficult at this stage to attribute each change to a particular person with certainty, the CBI chief asserted that the changes made by the Law Minister, PMO and Coal Ministry officials were accepted by the CBI since they pertained to its "tentative" findings and also "in order to refine the reports".

The affidavit, which will be taken up on Wednesday, contradicts the stand taken by Raval, who had during the March 12 hearing claimed that the report was not shared with political executives. Raval resigned last week after Sinha admitted that it was shared with Kumar and others, "as desired by them".

In his nine-page affidavit, Sinha cited two "significant" changes made in the report after the Law Minister's intervention. Notably, both these changes pertained to the investigation into allocation of coal blocks from 2006- 2009, during the UPA-I regime.

The first change related to a failure by the screening committee to prepare certain documents. "Tentative findings about non-preparation of broadsheet or chart by the screening committee, to the best of my recollection, was deleted by the Law Minister," said Sinha.

Further, he said, "deletion of a sentence about the scope of inquiry with respect to illegalities of allocation while the amendment to law was in process, was done by Law Minister." The affidavit did not reveal the sentence deleted, but pointed out that the original draft report and the amended one had already been submitted to the court.

Sinha said that on March 6, a meeting was held at the Law Minister's office and two preliminary enquiries (PEs) were discussed in the presence of Vahanvati and Raval. The CBI had started three PEs and registered nine regular cases (formal FIRs) till March 6.

Later in the day, CBI joint director O P Galhotra and DIG Ravikant went to the AG's residential office, where Vahanvati "glanced through" the portions of the status report and "made certain observations", said Sinha. The affidavit clarified that the AG "suggested certain minor changes in the status report of PE-2" (relating to allocation during UPA-I) but neither asked for, nor was given a copy of the "final" status report.

The same evening, at the request of Shatrughna Singh, joint secretary in the PMO, a meeting was held in Galhotra's office at the CBI headquarters, at which A K Bhalla, joint secretary in the Coal Ministry, was also present. Both the officials went through the draft status report and suggested two changes the next day.

"The tentative finding about non-existence of a system regarding allocation of specific weightage/ points was deleted at the instance of the officials of PMO and Coal Ministry," said the affidavit. The CBI's final status report also incorporated a statement on "non-existence of approved guidelines for allocation of coal blocks" at the instance of these officials, as it was "factually correct", it added. On March 7, Sinha vetted the reports and endorsed them for submission to the court.

The affidavit claimed that besides the reports of the two PEs, no other report was shared with anyone. On the question of concealing from the court the facts on sharing the report, the CBI chief said there was no intention to suppress this, and Raval made the statement "on his own".

Responding to the court's query on the procedure being followed by the CBI with respect to sharing the status report, Sinha submitted that there was "nothing" in the CBI manual to guide the agency and that departmental circulars and government instructions were also "silent" on this point. He said that no general guidelines could be located.

Sinha also expressed his "unconditional apology" for his "inadvertent" errors and assured the court that the investigation was being conducted "independently."

What the CBI affidavit says

1 CBI director Ranjit Sinha was first called for a meeting with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and AG G E Vahanvati in the first week of Feb '13. It was decided that the status report, which had not been prepared then, should be submitted in a sealed cover.

2 On March 6, Ashwani Kumar sought two changes at a meeting with Sinha, which was also attended by Vahanvati and then ASG H P Raval. First, "tentative" finding about "non-preparation of chart by screening committee" was deleted. Second, "a sentence about scope of inquiry with respect to illegalities of allocation while amendment to law was in process" was deleted.

3 On March 6 afternoon, CBI jt director O P Galhotra and DIG Ravikant took the report to Vahanvati, who "glanced through" it and "made certain observations". He "suggested certain minor changes" but neither asked for, nor was given a copy of "final" report.

4 The same evening, PMO jt secy Shatrughna Singh and Coal Ministry jt secy A K Bhalla met Galhotra. They suggested two changes. First, "tentative" finding about non-existence of a system regarding allocation of specific points was deleted. Second, a statement on "non-existence of approved guidelines for allocation of coal blocks" from 1993-2005 was added.
 
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