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Stamp scam door shuts in CBI face
- Bombay HC bars agency from taking over Maharashtra inquiry, asks SIT to cooperate

Mumbai, Nov. 27: Bombay High Court today dealt a blow to the Centre, which has been insisting on a CBI inquiry into the Rs 39,000-crore fake stamp paper scam, by asking the special investigation team to continue its inquiry “for now”.

The Centre has been on a collision course with the Maharashtra and Karnataka governments on the issue. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government holds that only a CBI inquiry can do justice to the case “with its connotations of national security and interstate financial bungling”.

Its arguments received a boost after Allahabad High Court, in response to a petition, recently directed the Centre to initiate a CBI probe into main accused Abdul Karim Telgi’s dealings.

The Congress-led Maharashtra government has voiced fears that the Centre might use the CBI probe as a tool to hit out at it. Karnataka, also ruled by the Congress, has refused a CBI probe but Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde recently gave in to pressure and said he was willing, but the last word would be the high court’s.

“It is the court which has instituted the SIT,” he pointed out. The investigating team directly reports to the high court.

Although today’s ruling, which reposed faith in the investigation team, has come as a relief to the Shinde government, it was not an all-out victory.

Justices C.K. Thakker and Abhay Oka said the team should “cooperate” with the CBI, which is already investigating the scam in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The court has fixed January 16 as the next date for hearing the CBI’s plea to take over the case in Maharashtra.

The Centre’s aggressive push for a CBI inquiry has not only puzzled, but also angered a lot of people here. With the investigating team arresting joint commissioner Sreedhar Vagal and indicting Mumbai’s former police chief Ranjit Singh Sharma, scam watchers thought the probe, led by retired director-general of police S.S. Puri, was delivering results. Ten other police officers were also arrested.

Even those who were demanding a CBI probe earlier have changed their stand. Majeed Memon, the counsel for anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare who is fighting the scam case, said the bureau had in August refused to take up the investigation because its hands were full. “The CBI has suddenly changed its stand. This appears to be politically motivated,” he said.

Echoing him, former police commissioner Julio Ribeiro, who along with some other former policemen had been asking for a CBI probe, said there seems to be no need for the bureau to take over now. “Even if they (the CBI) do,” he said, “the probe should be headed by S.S. Puri.”

Pitching in for the Centre, additional solicitor-general Sirish Gupte said the CBI was “willing to shoulder the responsibility if the court so desired”. He added that the bureau had no grievance regarding the team conducting the investigation but wanted to get in “only because of the ramifications of the scam spread across the country”.

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