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A file photo of Ranjit Sinha. Photo: HT
A file photo of Ranjit Sinha. Photo: HT

Leave 2G case probe, Supreme Court tells CBI director Sinha

Bench also recalls order asking CPIL to disclose name of whistleblower who provided access to Sinha's guest register

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Ranjit Sinha to recuse himself from the probe into suspected irregularities in the 2008 allocation of 2G telecom spectrum and licences.

The order, which comes just two weeks before Sinha’s retirement, should be a major source of embarrassment for the country’s top detective, who nevertheless maintained in interviews to TV channels that this wasn’t the case.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, justices Madan B. Lokur and A.K. Sikri also recalled its 15 September order asking not-for-profit organization Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) to disclose the name of the whistleblower who had provided access to the guest register at Sinha’s residence.

The apex court had earlier directed that CPIL disclose the name at the instance of Sinha’s lawyer Vikas Singh’s contention that the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, required the identity of the source to be revealed before any source-based information could be taken on record.

The guest register showed that Sinha had several meetings with executives from companies being probed by CBI in connection with the so-called 2G scam, according to CPIL, which accused him of trying to influence the findings of the probe. Sinha has denied this.

“Suffice (it) to say, (the) information seems prima facie credible," said the court, which asked a senior official at CBI to take charge of the investigation.

The court did not elaborate on its direction, saying a reasoned and lengthy order would affect CBI’s reputation. “To protect the fair name of the institution and reputation of the CBI director, we are not giving elaborate reasons," the bench said.

CPIL, by way of a 26 August application, first alleged before the apex court that Sinha had attempted to scuttle the federal investigating agency’s probe into Reliance Communications Ltd and the Marans of the Sun Group.

“It’s an excellent order which will have a salutary effect on the functioning of the CBI and on the principles of accountability and probity in public life," said lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who represents CPIL and is on its governing body.

“However, his (Sinha’s) indictment in the case is not only enough to get him off this case but all other cases. Therefore, the government must ask him to go or suspend him pending disciplinary proceedings," said Bhushan.

Sinha couldn’t be reached for comment on the phone.

Calls made to Jagdish Thakkar, public relations officer in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and Sharat Chander, information officer in the PMO, did not yield any response.

In court on Thursday, Sinha’s lawyer Singh tried to appeal to the judges, saying that while his way of doing things may not have been the right way, it wasn’t “mala fide" (with bad intention) or “influenced".

“Am I not entitled to this view?" Singh asked the court, while arguing that his decision to seek the attorney general’s opinion in the case involving the Marans could not amount to scuttling or delaying the probe.

Interestingly, Sinha faces a similar charge in a case filed by non-governmental organization Common Cause on the federal agency’s probe into irregularities in the allotment of coal mines. Thursday’s order may have some bearing on that case.

“It is a very serious decision and cannot be more shameful for a CBI director. Ranjit Sinha should resign immediately," said Sanjay Singh, a senior leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Sinha retires on 2 December.

A 1974 batch Bihar cadre Indian Police Service officer, Sinha was director general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. He also served as director general of the Railway Protection Force before taking charge as the CBI director in December 2012.

Pretika Khanna, Apoorva and Gyan Varma contributed to this story.

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