Govt refuses free hand to CBI to probe top officers

FP

Putting up a fight to hold on to its power to decide whether the CBI can be allowed to interrogate top officers, the Centre told the Supreme Court Wednesday that this authority could not be taken away even in a court-ordered or -monitored investigation such as the coal blocks allotment case.

In its submissions before a bench led by Justice R M Lodha, the government refused to make any exception to the rule mandating the CBI to approach it for sanction to investigate officers at the level of joint secretary or above, as provided under Section 6A of the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act.

Replying to the court's query on why the CBI should approach the government for sanction to investigate, the government said that the "court is not at liberty to negate this provision even in exercise of powers under Articles 32 and 142" and that this requirement could not be waived "under any circumstances."

The two articles refer to extraordinary powers to enforce fundamental rights and pass any order.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati said the rule mandating the CBI to seek government permission was a necessary safeguard to prevent senior officers from harassment and that any departure from it could lead to very serious ramifications since several cases were being monitored by the court. If sanction was refused, the CBI could very well challenge it in court, he added.

Unimpressed by his arguments, the bench wondered what the government's worry was when the matter was being looked into by the court. It said that "permission to investigate should follow as a matter of fact".

Pointing to the AG that the government initially refused to let the CBI question former coal secretary H C Gupta over alleged irregularities in coal blocks allotment, the bench said the "real problem was distrust in the institutions" because of recent developments.

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