New Delhi: From the Supreme Court and the opposition, it was an embarrassing cleft-stick of censure for the Manmohan Singh government Tuesday. While the apex court rapped it in the sternest terms for interfering in the CBI probe into coal block allocations, the BJP said in a no-holds-barred attack that the countdown to the end had begun.
And to add to its discomfiture, Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal resigned, a day after he blamed Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati for influencing the CBI probe into irregularities in the allotment of coal blocks.
Earlier, an anguished Supreme Court said: “We believed you and trusted you.” In a trenchant criticism of the UPA government, the court underlined the need to liberate the Central Bureau of Investigation from extraneous influences.
The bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha asked CBI director Ranjit Sinha to file an affidavit stating the changes made in the draft report vetted by Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.
“Had we not passed the order for filing of an affidavit, nobody would have ever known of the vetting by the political executive,” the court said.
“After all there is a question mark on the independence and impartiality of the CBI,” it added in an echo of what the opposition and civil society activists have long been alleging.
“We are studying the Supreme Court observation and we will take appropriate action,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters as the opposition sharpened its knives.
Added Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath somewhat euphemistically: “If the Supreme Court has made adverse remarks, then obviously these remarks are not pleasant.”
As the question over the premier investigating agency’s independence came under the spotlight again, CBI chief Sinha said: “It is now for them (Supreme Court) to take the call as to what type of autonomy is to be given to the agency or under what circumstances the agency has to interact with the political masters.”
The UPA II government, which is heading for elections next year, has found itself in a growing morass of allegations of corruption over allocations in 2G spectrum and now coal.
Last week, the CBI had told the Supreme Court that it shared its March 8 status report on investigations with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and a senior bureaucrat in the Prime Minister’s Office.
CPI leader D. Raja said the prime minister must own responsibility.
The BJP, which termed the UPA II government the most corrupt since independence and has been asking for Manmohan Singh’s resignation, said he could not escape accountability.
“Each passing day reinforces that the prime minister is not coming out clean before the apex court… He cannot escape accountability,” said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Signifying a near-complete breakdown, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj announced that her party would not be attending any meetings called by Speaker Meira Kumar or Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.
She also attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi for inciting MPs and ministers to disrupt her speech in the Lok Sabha in the morning.
“It is a situation of total breakdown but the government is responsible, not me,” Sushma Swaraj said, adding that the “countdown” for the government’s fall had begun.
“I was expecting the Lok Sabha speaker to come to my support as it was agreed upon at the all-party meeting Monday that I could make a statement on reasons for BJP disrupting parliament. But Congress members began interrupting me within two minutes of my speech,” she said.
Parliament has remained paralysed since April 22, when it reconvened for the second half of the budget session after a month-long recess. On Tuesday, it was again adjourned for the day.
India’s official auditor had last year revealed that the lack of transparency in the allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in the loss of $37 billion as on March 11, 2011. The report does not directly indict the prime minister or his office.
But during the time these mining blocks were allotted, the coal portfolio was held by Manmohan Singh (between July 2004 and May 2009).
With its law minister under the scanner, its top law officers battling and calls for the prime minister’s resignation getting louder, the government’s spin doctors needed to come up with some strategy. And fast, said analysts.
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.