It is bad enough for the first law officer of the land to be dubbed an “inside man” by a political and current affairs magazine. The 13th Attorney General of the country, Goolam Essaji Vahanvati, required by the professional ethics of his office to keep the government at an arm’s length, was portrayed as a man quite comfortable with blurring the boundaries with the ruling class. He is also being accused of being close to one of the most powerful business tycoons in the country.
Now he faces the embarrassing charge—levelled in an April 29 letter (see full text at outlookindia.com) by his own deputy, additional solicitor general (ASG) Harin P. Raval—of having vetted the CBI status report on the coal allocation scam. Not just that, the scrutiny of the report appeared to have been done in the presence of Union law minister Ashwani Kumar and the CBI. Despite this, the AG and ASG had said that they had no knowledge whatsoever of the report. The ASG had, in fact, said so in court on March 12. Admittedly, he was following the senior attorney general’s orders till his conscience jolted him into speaking otherwise.
At the heart of the matter is that all the principal players—the CBI, the law minister and the law officers—have admitted to have met each other.
The battle of propriety between the two law officers not only suggests a collusion between law officers and the government but also raises the question whether two of the seniormost law officers of the country had actually lied on oath when they said they had not seen the report. The year 2013 has, in fact, begun anything but well for the 13th AG. In February, he had to appear as witness before a CBI special court for an examination of his role in the 2G scam in which the Union telecom ministry had sought his opinion on spectrum allocation. He has since then had to face the fresh charge of colluding with the government in diluting the status report on coal allocation.
If Vahanvati did make the changes, not just once but nine times as is being alleged, and in his own handwriting, did he mislead the court when he said he had not seen the report? Media reports suggest that Vahanvati is hurt by the allegations of his junior and continues to maintain that he does not have a copy of the status report. But if the country’s seniormost law officers are putting up untruths before a court, for whatever compelling reasons, does it not amount to perjury or contempt? Says senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has filed an application in court seeking an sit probe on the issue, “Both are at fault, but as Vahanvati is the senior officer, it would have been embarrassing for Raval to contradict him.” Bhushan firmly believes that what Raval has said in his letter is the closest to the truth in this unfortunate episode. For, at the heart of the matter is the fact that all the principal players—be it the CBI director, the law minister or the law officers—have admitted to having met each other.
But, as a senior officer in the current regime says on condition of anonymity, it’s a disaster for the AG whose responsibility is to the court and not to the government. “It is unfortunate that the government has lowered the dignity of the office of the Attorney General of India.” Yet others point out that if the law minister summons the attorney general, he has no choice but to go under normal circumstances.
In this instance, the problem lies in the fact that the AG is accused of having designed a cover-up for top members of the country’s executive. The court has now asked the CBI to file an affidavit citing the changes made in the coal allocation report. More bad news for the AG seems likely.