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PM denies probe role

New Delhi, Aug. 5: Rejecting the Opposition charge that the government influenced the CBI in the Babri demolition case, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight asserted in the Lok Sabha that “neither I nor my office ever interfered” in the working of the premier investigating agency.

The statement came in the wake of Opposition complaints that the CBI was being “misused” by the government to save deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others by dropping the conspiracy charge under Section 120 (b) of the IPC in the case.

While Advani and Joshi were absent, Vajpayee reached the House at 4 pm sharp, when the debate began. He sat through five hours of arguments before reading out his prepared speech — handed to him two hours before the debate ended. He said the government’s interface with the CBI was limited to providing budgetary support and exercising administrative superintendence.

He regretted that of late, many discussions on the guilt or innocence of individuals were taking place in Parliament. “Not only is this contrary to the rules, it subverts the rule of law, it also interferes with free trial,” he said and appealed to members to seriously consider whether the practice should now be stopped.

Initiating the debate, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said though there was no rule to seek removal of two ministers from the Union cabinet, the Vajpayee government was setting an “unhealthy precedent” by allowing Advani and Joshi, chargesheeted by CBI, to continue as ministers.

During heated exchanges with the Opposition, particularly Das Munshi and Satyavrata Chaturvedi (of the Congress) and CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, law minister Arun Jaitley said there was “a conspiracy to add the charge of conspiracy”.

He dismissed charges of “doctoring” tapes of speeches made on December 6, 1992, the day the Babri Masjid was brought down at Ayodhya. “No speech had been given by Advani on December 6,” he said amid heckling by the Congress and CPM members.

Though only two other members from the BJP — Vinay Katiyar and Kirit Somayya —spoke, the government fielded several ally members to defend itself. Telugu Desam member K. Yerran Naidu, the Trinamul Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, Samata Party member Prabhunath Singh and Janata Dal (U) leader Ramjeevan Singh met trashed the Opposition move before the Vajpayee’s speech.

Mamata, Naidu and Independent MP Pappu Yadav chided their opponents for repeatedly discussing Ayodhya when there were several pressing issues like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and so on. Prabhunath Singh tried to level allegations against Congress president Sonia Gandhi to score political points, but the Speaker expunged them.

Speaking at the close of the debate, the Prime Minister reminded members that since the Supreme Court judgment in the Vineet Narain case, the CBI director was no longer appointed by the government, but by a committee headed by the chief vigilance commissioner. “Even though cases in Ayodhya matters are pending against some of my own distinguished colleagues, my government has neither withdrawn those cases nor taken any steps to interfere with the functioning of the CBI,” he said.

Stressing that the jurisdiction of the CBI to proceed in any case was not subject to government control, he said “this also holds true for the cases relating to the criminal prosecution in Ayodhya matters”.

The interest of justice required that the guilty should be punished and the innocent acquitted. “To evaluate the evidence and determine innocence or guilt is the function of the court,” he said.

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