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Deadline for CBI Taj probe

New Delhi, Aug. 21: The Supreme Court today directed the CBI to complete investigations into the Taj heritage corridor scam by September 11 and submit a report to the court the same day.

The bureau’s plea for four months more to complete the probe was thus rejected. It had submitted an interim report to the apex court last week.

On the basis of the report, a division bench of Justices M.B. Shah and A.R. Lakshmanan observed that the “high and mighty” were involved, including “four to five important officers”. So “a higher officer of the CBI” should interrogate them, the judges directed.

The bureau should also interrogate “the person who is wielding the authority there (in Uttar Pradesh)”, they said.

“On the basis of the report, we direct a higher official of CBI to immediately interrogate four to five or more persons who are involved in the decision-making process to grant contract for the construction of the Taj heritage corridor project,” the bench said in its brief order.

Declining to make the interim report public, the bench said it was imperative for the CBI to speed up the investigation so that the persons named did not get time to “manoeuvre”.

The bench ordered that the report be kept in sealed covers as “it would not be proper to make public the names of the persons at this stage”.

The director of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory was ordered to engage a handwriting expert for an opinion on the alleged interpolation of certain documents.

The bench rejected the plea of court commissioner and amicus curiae Krishan Mahajan that the officials named in the report be suspended pending investigation. They could not be suspended without a hearing, the judges observed.

For the CBI, additional solicitor-general Altaf Ahmed said that one of the four or five important persons the bureau questioned in the preliminary stage “refused to sign a single paper”. The bench said the bureau could question that person again.

The Rs 175-crore corridor project was feared to endanger the 17th century Taj Mahal and devastate the Yamuna because of land reclamation.

The bench said that Rs 17 crore were released for the corridor construction, violating rules and norms and without sanction from departments such as pollution control, environment and tourism.

The CBI, it said, should also examine the suspects’ wealth.

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