| Das Munshi
New Delhi, Aug. 20: The CBI probe in the Air-India disinvestment letter case has reached a dead end with Priya Ranjan Das Munshi refusing to meet bureau sleuths.
Das Munshi, the Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, had read out an allegedly forged letter in the House on August 23, 2001.
The letter was purportedly written by a former cabinet secretary to principal secretary Brajesh Mishra over the Air-India disinvestment.
In his speech, the Congress leader had accused the Centre of giving away prime public sector undertakings like Air-India to tainted companies. When he finished speaking, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie said the letter was forged.
A day later, the CBI registered a case on a complaint lodged by a cabinet secretariat additional secretary who denied that the cabinet secretary had written such a letter.
Das Munshi has refused to assist the CBI in its probe despite repeated attempts by the bureau to question him.
Acting on the CBI’s behalf, the Centre has now sent a communiqué to Speaker Manohar Joshi asking him to arrange for the Congress leader’s questioning.
The opening paragraph of the disputed letter said: “The process of disinvestment of Air- India has been facing numerous problems, especially in the area of according security clearance to one bidder and thereafter having the process become a single-bidder system along with the issue of investment advisers’ role.
“It is being felt in certain sections of the government and Parliament that the government is engaged in an exercise to give away a valuable asset rather than extract value from it...” the letter continued.
Government sources said S.B. Mookherjee, minister of state for statistics and programme implementation, wrote to Joshi last month, saying he felt the CBI would need Das Munshi’s help to “make a proper investigation in this forgery”.
The minister said the Congress leader could meet him to arrange an interview if he was willing to cooperate with the CBI.
Mookherjee had to step in because parliamentary rules on MPs’ privileges require an investigating agency to approach the Speaker through its ministry if they want to question a member in a criminal case.
According to the rules, there is not much Joshi can do in the matter. He can only request the MP. If the member refuses, the matter ends there, government sources said. CBI officials are frustrated and say only Das Munshi can shed light on the source of the forged letter.
Das Munshi is not the only Congress leader facing a CBI probe over allegedly forged documents. Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi was questioned by CBI in June after he wrote to A.B. Vajpayee, alleging that the Intelligence Bureau’s “special directorate” had prepared a dossier on his assets.