A meeting called by Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, where he allegedly made changes to a report that the CBI was to share with the Supreme Court, could prove to be perilous for the government and the investigating agency. But sources close to the Law Minister describe the controversy as "a storm in a tea cup."
That could be wishful thinking by his supporters. Increasingly, the minister appears isolated, with nobody from the government speaking in his defense. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office today said that Mr Kumar, "in his enthusiasm" organized the meeting and did alter the report, but only to correct grammatical mistakes, a line that the court and opposition may not buy. The sources were also quick to stress that the Prime Minister himself was " at no stage asked or involved in the process of consultation."
But they conceded that bureaucrats "at the level of joint secretary" from the Prime Minister's Office met with the CBI to answer questions about how coal fields were allocated to private players between 2006 and 2009. The issue is sensitive for the government because for some of those years, the Prime Minister held charge of the Coal Ministry.
It appears odd for the CBI, assigned to uncover and expose any gaps in that policy, to be consulting with the PM's office about what is meant to be the crux of an independent investigation.
The meeting on March 5 that was called by the Law Minister at his office was attended by CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval, Attorney General GE Vahanvati and OP Galhotra, the CBI officer handling the coal probe.
A week later, on March 12, the Additional Solicitor General, who was representing the CBI, told the Supreme Court that the report had not been previewed by the government. The judges have asked the CBI director to submit a written guarantee by April 25 that the document had not been shared with "the political executive."
Sources close to the Law Minister say that he denies altering the CBI's findings, and that his ministry is obliged to offer advice to others. However, the CBI is not a government department, it is an independent investigating agency.