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.

Hartosh Singh Bal  is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada.

Sandeep Bhushan was a television journalist for twenty years. He is currently an independent media researcher.

Keywords: 2G scam Niira Radia Anil Ambani Supreme Court Essar Mahendra Nahata Prashant Ruia Ranjit Sinha ML Sharma Reliance ADAG HFCL coal scam Radia Tapes