New Delhi: Former CBI Special Director ML Sharma on Monday emerged as the first choice of the Supreme Court to assist the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in its probe against Ranjit Sinha, who during his tenure as the agency chief, was accused of scuttling the probe in the coal block allocation scam.
The suggestion to rope in Sharma, subject to his consent, for inquiry against Sinha by the CVC came from a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur after anti-corruption watchdog said it did not have its own investigating arm.
The bench, which also comprised Justices Kurian Joseph and AK Sikri, on 14 May had admonished Sinha for his "completely inappropriate" meetings with coal scam accused in the absence of investigating officers (IOs) and had said "further inquiry is necessary" to ascertain the fairness and impact of his conduct in the coal scam probe.
The bench, which is monitoring the probe, had sought the CVC's assistance to determine the methodology for conducting such an inquiry on whether his meetings with the accused had any impact on the investigations, the subsequent charge sheets or closure reports filed by the CBI.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that since the CVC did not have its own investigating arm, the investigators from the CBI and ED, who are not associated with coal cases, can be asked to assist the anti-corruption watchdog.
At this, the bench suggested the name of Sharma saying that he was an "outstanding officer" who enjoys "good reputation and can be asked to have officers, either in service or retired, on whom he has confidence to be in his team to assist the CVC.
"If Sharma has no objection, ask him to give 3 or 4 names of officers who can assist him," the bench told Rohatgi.
The Attorney General said he would speak to the former CBI officer and informed the bench about the outcome.
The bench said if Sharma did not agree with the assignment, the top law officer would suggest names of some others.
During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan had also suggested the name of Justice N Santosh Hegde, former apex court judge, saying he was a former Lokayukta of Karnataka and has experience in conducting inquiry.
The apex court in its judgement had said even if Sinha is right, there cannot at all be any justification for him to meet any accused person in a criminal case where investigation is underway, without the investigating officer being present, whether it is in his office or as alleged by Prashant Bhushan, at his residence and that too, allegedly, several times including late at night.
The court, which had examined the documents including office notes and entry register of Sinha's residence allegedly showing him meeting coal scam accused even at midnight, held that those did not fall in the category of Official Secrets Act and "disclosures made by the whistle blower were intended to be in public interest".
The bench, which had noted that Sinha met several accused including Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Vijay Darda, said it is not necessary to examine whether the probe into the case of the Dardas was in any manner influenced by him at any point of time.
"What is of importance is that as justice must not only be done but it must also appear to have been done. Similarly, investigations must not only be fair but must appear to have been conducted in a fair manner. The fact that Sinha met some of the accused persons without the IO or the investigating team being present disturbs us with regard to the fairness of the investigations. This is all the more so if we keep in mind the fact that in the 2G scam investigations, this Court had concluded in its order of November 20, 2014 that Sinha should not interfere in the investigation and prosecution of the case relating to the 2G spectrum allocation and to recuse himself from the case. That an SIT was not ordered in the 2G spectrum case is not relevant," the bench had said.
The NGO Common Cause had sought investigation by SIT on alleged scuttling of the probe into coal block allocation scam by Sinha.