WP 463 of 2012
Disposal of Ranjit Sinha’s perjury case
The petition sought a court-monitored investigation into the allocation process and prayed for imposition of punitive damages on the allottees for false declarations and breaches of the conditions of allotment, cancellation of the permission granted to captive coal block users to divert surplus coal for other purposes, and recovery of the windfall profits obtained by the allottees through direct or indirect sale of coal blocks.
The PIL highlighted the arbitrary manner in which the Central Government alienated a scarce natural resource in favour of a few select private companies to the detriment of the public exchequer and deferred the introduction of competitive bidding. The petitioners urged that as per the law propounded in the 2G Case and the subsequent Presidential reference, the coal blocks in question be resumed and auctioned as per Section 11A of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation & Development Act.
In a landmark judgment delivered on August 25, 2014, the Court ruled that neither the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, nor the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, empowers the Central government to allocate coal blocks. The Court also undertook a judicial review of the entire process of allocation and concluded that the allocations made on the recommendations of the Screening Committee as well as the allocations made through the Government Dispensation Route between 1993 and 2009 were arbitrary and illegal. Coal blocks, where competitive bidding was held for the lowest power tariff for Ultra Mega Power Projects, were excluded from the purview of the verdict. However, the Court, at the instance of our counsel, directed that no diversion of coal for commercial exploitation will be permitted from the blocks allocated for UMPPs commercial exploitation.
The Court held further hearings to determine the consequences flowing from its verdict. The UOI accepted the inevitability of auctions for the blocks held to be illegally allocated, but sought an exemption for 46 blocks, where mining leases have been granted, or the end use plants are nearing completion. The Court delivered its final order on September 24, 2014, cancelling 214 of the 218 allocations made in favour of private entities and joint ventures during the period from 1993 to 2010.
Common Cause had filed an interim application in September 2014 underlining determined efforts by the then Director CBI Mr. Ranjit Sinha to subvert the investigation and prosecution of the Coal Scam cases and requesting for a court-monitored investigation by a Special Investigation Teams or by the Ant-corruption Bureau of Delhi Police in the entire matter.
The application also sought recusal of Mr. Sinha from the ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to the coal blocks allocation case. Mr. Sinha subsequently moved an application on November 17, 2014 praying for registration of an FIR for perjury against Kamal Jaswal, Common Cause and Prashant Bhushan for false statements made in the affidavit and in course of the Court proceedings. The said case was however dismissed in a welcomed order of the Apex Court on May 14, 2015. The Court observed that that under the circumstances it was difficult to hold that there was any intention to mislead the Court in any manner on the part of Mr. Bhushan, Common Cause or Mr. Jaswal. In the process, the Court also made several adverse observations on the manner of conduct of inquiry by the CBI. The arguments tendered by the CBI that any adverse order in the matter would irreparably damage its credibility was termed "fallacious" by the Court and rejected. Holding the meetings in the absence of the investigating officer or team as completely inappropriate the Court found it necessary to look into the question whether any one or more such meetings have had any impact on the investigations and subsequent charge sheet/closure reports filed by the CBI.
On September 15, 2015, a high level committee headed by former CBI Director Mr. M.L.Sharma has been constituted by the Court for the purpose of ascertaining whether the investigations conducted by CBI have been influenced in any manner by Mr. Ranjit Sinha in respect of the accused in the case.
On December 14, 2015, expressing its unhappiness at the prolonged delays in the investigations by the CBI, the Court allowed its request for substitution of a senior police official made through the note on administrative issues filed on December 14, 2015. The Court however noted that it expected the CBI to conclude the investigations at the earliest without seeking further extensions or transfer of officials.
The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) had on September 17, 2015 filed the 8th Status Report for July 4, 2015 to September 11, 2015. As per the report, investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2012 and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973 in respect of 43 companies were being carried out. Refraining from commenting on the progress made by the ED, the Court directed both the ED and the CBI to file their reports up to December 31, 2015, by January 5, 2016. The matter has been listed for January 11, 2016.
Regarding the CVC reports of July 27 & 28 and September 3, 2015 and letter of October 16, 2015, the Court stated that the same had been taken on record and would be dealt with on January 11, 2016 itself.
Noting that the Enquiry Committee constituted by the Court had started its functions from September 15, 2015, it directed the UOI to grant remuneration to the members and staff of the Committee. This high level committee headed by a former CBI Director, (Mr. Sharma) was constituted by the Court to ascertain whether the investigations conducted by CBI had been influenced in any manner by Mr. Ranjit Sinha in respect of the accused in the case. The Court’s also granted permission to Mr. Sharma to access the original Visitor’s Register maintained at the residence of Mr. Sinha and the list of the names of 23 personnel and four CBI constables working at his residential establishment (which had been directed to be kept in a sealed cover).
Previously this matter was taken up on December 7, 2015 when the Court had granted time to Mr. Sharma and listed the matter for December 14. The matter had similarly come up in October/ November 2015 but was deferred for later dates.
On January 23, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed the prayer in the IA 13 filed by Common Cause for the constitution of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe the abuse of authority by Ranjit Sinha while he was the Director CBI. The Court has entrusted the CBI with the enquiry and decided not to appoint an outside body. The Court clarified that it had not expressed any opinion on the merits of the allegations made in the IA nor made any comment on the contents of the report prepared by Mr M.L. Sharma and his team, except that a prima facie case had definitely been made out for investigation into the abuse of authority by Mr Ranjit Sinha in terms of the report. Holding the matter to be of considerable public importance, the Court emphasized that it should be taken up with due earnestness. It directed that a copy of the order be provided to the Director, CBI so as to enable him, on the next date of hearing, to indicate the composition of his team and the time required to complete the investigations.
During the hearing on January 30, 2017, the Court directed the CBI to complete its investigation and file charge sheets in pending coal scam cases as expeditiously as possible, and in some cases by February 2017. The Bench advised the CBI against unnecessary delays in the filing of charge sheets in cases in which the investigation was already over.
The Court refused to entertain Ranjit Sinha's plea to modify investigation orders against him, restricting its order to calling the probe “an enquiry” and not term it as “an investigation”. Invoking the SC’s recent dismissal of documentary material produced in the Sahara-Birla pay-offs case, the former CBI Director on January 30, 2017, sought modification in the Court’s order of January 27, 2017, order. Mr Sinha’s counsel made a reference to how the Supreme Court refused to even direct the registration of an FIR into the Sahara-Birla pay-offs case in which top politicians, including the Prime Minister, were accused of receiving kickbacks from Sahara and Birla group of companies for alleged favours. The Bench, however, refused to entertain his plea as the order had already been passed and a modification could be sought under a separate plea for recall of the order. In the hearing on March 24, 2017, his plea for recall was formally dismissed.
In the hearing on December 4, 2017, the Bench directed the SIT to submit its status report to the Court within four weeks. It is listed for hearing on 15 January 2018.