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Atal asserts CBI autonomy

New Delhi, Aug. 4: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today tried to convince Rajya Sabha members that the CBI is an autonomous agency and the government has not tried to exert pressure on it.

The Prime Minister was speaking after a blistering attack by the Opposition on the CBI’s role in the Babri Masjid demolition case in which deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi are some of the main accused.

The Opposition has accused the government of using the CBI to protect its senior members.

“Many members have raised questions about the investigating agency and its role. The government has at no time tried to influence the CBI and the agency has absolute autonomy,” the Prime Minister, who sat stony-faced through the short debate on the CBI’s role in Ayodhya investigations, told the House.

Vajpayee said the CBI had registered these cases as early as 1993. “The cases against senior members of my council of ministers have continued even when we came to power. The government has no control over the case and we have not issued orders to the CBI. We have not interfered at any stage.

“It is up to the CBI to decide who should be prosecuted and under what section,” said Vajpayee. He said the cases have been pending for a long time, the procedure is long and it is up to the courts to make sure that the guilty are punished and the innocent acquitted.

“The government has no hand in all this,” explained the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee also advised the Opposition against raising issues being heard in court. “The tendency to raise these issues are on the rise. Members should take note of this and let the court take its own decision.”

There were no clarifications as Rajya Sabha chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat adjourned the House soon after Vajpayee delivered the statement, read out from a prepared text.

Earlier, Congress member Kapil Sibal initiated the debate by wanting to know why the videotaped evidence that implicated the senior ministers was not presented in court. The Opposition contented that the CBI was being manipulated to save the ministers.

Sibal asked the government if the CBI was withholding evidence. Members of the Congress, Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal echoed Sibal and pointed out that this is a criminal offence.

Law minister Arun Jaitley refuted the charges, saying the videotapes were in the possession of the courts. “Since 1993, all tapes have been in the custody of courts and not with CBI,” he said.

Jaitley tried to turn the tables by saying: “It appeared there was a conspiracy to add the conspiracy charge.” He said there was no attempt to delete the conspiracy charge as this did not exist in the first instance.

The FIR in the conspiracy case and the one against Advani were separate, maintained the law minister. He said the investigating agency in the conspiracy case was the CBI, but against Advani the Uttar Pradesh CID was the investigating agency.

The Uttar Pradesh government, which was under President’s Rule, “took a conscious decision of referring one FIR to the CBI and the other remained with Uttar Pradesh CB-CID”, Jaitley said.

The investigating agency in the second case was changed in August 1993, six months after the CB-CID had filed a chargesheet and the conspiracy charge was added against Advani after clubbing the two chargesheets.

Jaitley carried the fight to Opposition territory, saying: “The question is why this (clubbing of two chargesheets and adding of conspiracy charge) happened' It’s very unusual. The advisor to the Uttar Pradesh governor says the two cannot be clubbed, the high court says the two cannot be clubbed. Was there a conspiracy to add the conspiracy charge'” asked the law minister.

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