The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bid to ‘free’ probe watchdog

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear at an early date the Centre’s argument for including the “single directive” in the Central Vigilance Commission Act.

A three-member bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S. Rajendra Babu and R.C. Lahoti agreed to a suggestion from amicus curiae Anil Baburao Divan that the matter be heard at the earliest. However, no date has been fixed as yet.

The single directive was originally only an executive order issued by the United Front government at the Centre in 1997. P. Chidambaram was Union finance minister at the time.

The directive made it necessary for the CBI or any other intelligence or prosecution agency to obtain prior government sanction for probing and chargesheeting officers of the rank of joint secretary and above. Even nationalised banks required approval to probe branch managers and officers of higher rank.

But the Supreme Court held the directive to be invalid and struck it down in its judgment in the Vineet Narain case in December 1997 that came to be known as the Jain hawala case.

The apex court directed the Centre to “free” investigating agencies from “political clutches” and make the Central Vigilance Commission the overall superintending body of all investigating agencies.

Following this, the Centre introduced an ordinance making the commission the nodal body. The ordinance was brought in as a bill, which was passed by Parliament during the recent monsoon session.

On September 11, the Centre issued a gazette notification officially implementing the Central Vigilance Commission Act.

But senior counsel Diwan said the act had restored the single directive with “statutory sanction”, making it necessary for investigating agencies to obtain prior permission to conduct inquiries.

Diwan said this was against the Supreme Court’s directives in the Narain case as well as well as the Indian Bank scam case.

Indian Bank had allegedly loaned crores of rupees to powerful politicians. But these became “non-performing assets” and “provision made for”, an euphemism for waiving the loans.

This led Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy to move a public interest litigation in the apex court seeking a thorough probe into the matter.

Swamy said Chidamabaram had issued the single directive in his capacity as Union finance minister in order to shield his Tamil Maanila Congress colleagues. Most of the politicians who received loans from Indian Bank belonged to this party.

M. Gopalakrishnan, chairman and managing director of the bank, had to quit after the scam came to light. He was later arrested.

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