Sharma Committee findings on Ranjit Sinha registers raise questions about influence of corporates such as Reliance ADAG and Essar on CBI inquiries into coal scam, 2G scam and Radia Tapes

Senior executives from Essar Group, led by Prashant Ruia (left), and Anil Ambani's Reliance ADAG, among others, were named in the list of frequent visitors to Sinha's residence during his tenure as CBI chief. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images Gurinder Osan/Ap Photo

On 25 May, arguing for the Central Bureau of Investigation against the acquittal of the former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G scam case. Tushar Mehta described the case as a “monument of corruption in the history of India and a national shame.” Mehta made no mention of the fact that the CBI trial court judge who pronounced the judgment acquitting Raja had notedthat he waited “in vain” for seven years for legally admissible evidence in the case, which concerned the allegedly illegal allocation of the 2G spectrum. Mehta also did not mention that information already present before the Supreme Court in the coal-scam case suggests a clear need to reexamine the CBI’s investigation of the 2G case that took place during the tenure of its former director Ranjit Sinha—from 3 December 2012 to 2 December 2014.

In 2015, the Supreme Court appointed a committee headed by ML Sharma, a former special director of the CBI, to examine Sinha’s meetings during his tenure as CBI head with those accused in cases related to the coal scam—including Congress politicians Vijay Darda and Santosh Bagrodia—and whether these interactions had impacted the ongoing CBI inquiries and subsequent chargesheets or closure reports in any cases. We reported earlier that the committee’s findings directly indicted Sinha—it concluded that some of these meetings influenced the CBI’s investigations and conclusions in several cases. The committee based its findings on the visitor registers from Sinha’s residence, which covered a period of 15 months during his tenure, and its subsequent inquiry into the individuals listed in the logs, as well as the cases with which they were associated

It is learnt that not only did the Sharma Committee conclude that these meetings influenced the coal-scam cases, it also raised serious questions about the impact of numerous other meetings, between Ranjit Sinha and senior figures from several industrial houses. In fact, it is only the failure of the CBI to fully cooperate with the committee that has ensured that corporate players have so far remained shielded from legal action.

Among Sinha’s frequent visitors was AN Sethuraman, the group president of corporate affairs of Anil Ambani’s Reliance ADAG. Sethuraman visited Sinha 28 times during the period covered in the logs. Further, his call records showed that he received 79 calls from Sinha and made 58 calls to him, and that they exchanged 33 SMSs. His colleague, Anthony Jesudasan, who goes by the name Tony and is also a senior executive at Reliance ADAG, visited Sinha 26 times and received 104 calls from the former director. Jesudasan made 78 calls to Sinha, and they exchanged 56 SMSs.

Another senior industry executive whose name found frequent mention in the logs is Sunil Bajaj of the Essar Group. Bajaj visited Sinha 69 times over the 15 months recorded in the registers—on one occasion, he was accompanied by Prashant Ruia, then the group CEO of Essar, and now director of Essar Global. Both Reliance ADAG and Essar were part of the CBI inquiries in the 2G scam. Sethuraman had also been questioned in connection with another ongoing CBI investigation: the Radia Tapes, a tranche of leaked conversations between the lobbyist Niira Radia and various influential politicians, industrialists and journalists.

At the time that these visits took place, Reliance ADAG and Essar had coal-scam enquiries pending against them as well. When the Sharma Committee began its investigation, three preliminary enquiries (PEs) pertaining to the coal scam—clubbing together the allocation of 300 coal mines and blocks—had been registered. Reliance ADAG was named in two of the PEs relating to the coal scam. The first PE pertained to the allotment of the Rampia and Dipside Rampia coal blocks in Orissa to several entities including the Reliance group, and the second to using surplus coal from three mines allocated to Reliance Power for the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project in another project. Essar was named in a PE in connection with three coal blocks—Mahan in Madhya Pradesh, and Chakala and Ashok Kakreta in Jharkhand. The committee noted that the visits of these executives could not have been without purpose, but refrained from stating a definitive conclusion, attributing its inability to the fact that the CBI had not made the files relating to the PEs available to the committee.

The occurrence of these meetings raises serious questions about the CBI’s investigations into the 2G scam and the Radia Tapes. While any such conclusion was outside the mandate of the Sharma Committee, logic dictates that if Sinha’s meetings with a number of coal-scam accused or those closely associated with them impacted its investigations, the meetings with those accused in the 2G scam or those associated with the accused individuals could have impacted their respective investigations as well. It is important to note here that in August 2014, the then CBI special public prosecutor Uday U Lalit, who is now a Supreme Court judge, accused the CBI and Sinha of attempting to derail a case against Ambani’s Reliance Telecom and three of its directors, who were accused in the 2G scam.

Apart from Essar and Reliance executives, the frequent visitors to the Sinha residence included Mahendra Nahata, the managing director of Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited, a telecommunications company. Nahata figured in the Radia Tapes and had been questioned in connection with the 2G cases. He visited Sinha’s residence 98 times during the period covered by the registers.

It is learnt that Sethuraman told the committee that he had known Sinha since 1997–98 and had started visiting Sinha’s house regularly after the latter was appointed as director of the CBI. He admitted that he had been questioned on three occasions by the CBI in relation to the coal-scam cases, as well as in a case connected with the Radia Tapes. Sethuraman claimed he did not discuss ongoing investigations with Sinha, discussed only personal matters. Jesudasan claimed that his visits were largely at Sinha’s instance and were personal in nature. He told the committee that he was aware that the Anil Ambani group was under investigation in relation to the 2G cases and the coal scam, but claimed he did not discuss these matters with Sinha. Bajaj, too, claimed his visits were personal in nature.