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.