Court says Singha Durbar CCTV data loss unimaginable, as probe strugglesNo progress in investigation into charges against Janardan Sharma with the Finance Ministry refusing to provide footage. Secretaries to be grilled today, probe members say.
Just as a parliamentary committee is collecting evidence, including a CCTV footage of the Finance Ministry, as part of its probe if Janardan Sharma did invite outsiders to tweak the budget, the Supreme Court has noted that it cannot imagine that CCTV footage data of Singha Durbar, the main administrative hub of the country, are not kept safely by the authorities.
A single bench of Justice Kumar Regmi has said an interim order is not necessary because it is unimaginable that the CCTV data of Singha Durbar are not safe.
The bench was responding to a petition demanding an interim order to keep the CCTV records of all the ministries safe.
“Considering the security arrangements at the country’s main administrative hub, it is unimaginable that authorities concerned have not kept the data captured by the CCTV cameras of different ministries on the Singha Durbar premises including the Finance Ministry, an interim order is not necessary immediately,” the bench observed.
Lawyers Baburam Aryal, Saroj Krishna Ghimire and Shishir Kumar Yadav, and Bina Yadav of Madhav Narayan-9 of Rautahat district had filed the petition at the Supreme Court on Thursday. They had also demanded an order to relieve both secretaries at the Finance Ministry of their duties for tampering with evidence.
The Finance Ministry had said that the CCTV footage of the night of May 28 got erased automatically because the system could record only 13 days of footage. Sharma faces charges of inviting two outsiders to manipulate tax rates on the night of May 28.
“We had demanded that the Finance Secretary Madhu Marasini and Revenue Secretary Krishna Hari Pushkar be relieved of their duties until the probe completes because they could destroy the evidence,” said advocate Aryal. “However, the court has rejected our demand.”
As per media reports, both the secretaries were at the Finance Ministry when Sharma had invited two outsiders to change the tax rates at the last hour. The secretaries have not spoken anything on the matter.
The court has ordered the defendants including the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers to furnish clarifications within 15 days and has also given priority to the case citing its significance.
After an 11-member parliamentary probe committee was formed on July 6, Sharma announced his resignation as finance minister after addressing the Parliament.
The probe committee has been given 10 days from the day it started its work to submit its report with recommendations.
It, however, started its work only on July 12.
On the fourth day after starting its work, the panel held two meetings on Friday and has also called another meeting for Saturday morning to discuss what questions should be asked to the authorities concerned.
The panel is preparing to question the officials of the Finance Ministry throughout the day on Saturday.
The panel includes Khagaraj Adhikari (CPN-UML), Dev Gurung (Maoist Centre), Man Bahadur Bishwakarma (Nepali Congress), Pradeep Gyawali (CPN-UML), Bhanubhakta Dhakal (CPN-UML), Bimala BK (CPN-UML), Laxman Lal Karna (Loktantrik Samajbadi Party), Shakti Basnet (Maoist Centre), Sarala Kumari Yadav (Unified Socialist), Sitaram Yadav (Congress) and Surendra Yadav (Janata Samajbadi Party) are the members of the committee. Pushpa Bhusal was replaced by Bishwakarma after she became a candidate for deputy Speaker.
The panel members had visited the Finance Ministry on Wednesday.
“The panel members are irked at the Finance Ministry as it has not provided the footage that we had demanded,” said one of the members asking not to be named. “We have received some documents and are studying them and on Saturday we will discuss our further strategy.”
The committee had demanded the footage of the night of May 28.
Surendra Aryal, secretary of the parliamentary Finance Committee who is currently working as the secretary of the probe committee, also said some of the documents provided by the Finance Ministry were incomplete. He, however, refused to offer details.
“It would not be appropriate to immediately conclude that the Finance Ministry is not cooperating, because they could provide all necessary documents later,” Aryal told the Post. “We are working in such a way that we will be able to submit our report by the deadline.”
Khagaraj Adhikari of the UML, another member of the probe committee, said there has been no progress in the investigation except some meetings.
“But let's wait and hope we can make some progress,” Adhikari told the Post.
It was the UML that had demanded a parliamentary committee to probe the alleged budget tweaking by Sharma, who is a Maoist leader and close ally of party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Despite the charges of tweaking the budget and erasing the CCTV footage and huge public outcry, Sharma had refused to budge while Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist chair Dahal maintained silence.
Another member of the probe committee Bhanubhakta Dhakal, also from the UML, said the committee has the mandate of only 10 days, hence they are in a rush.
“Since we don’t have much time we have been holding meetings in the mornings as well as in the evenings,” said Dhakal.
He refused to share details saying members are not authorised to speak to the media and that Surendra Aryal of the parliamentary Finance Committee has been assigned to speak to the media.
Committee members did not say if they are also planning to check CCTV footage of Singha Durbar gates and ministers’ quarters in Pulchowk. In one of the television interviews, Sharma claimed that he returned to his quarters late on May 28 night and returned to the ministry only in the morning. While defending himself in Parliament he had repeated the same thing.
Another member of the committee Man Bahadur Bishwakarma, representing the Nepali Congress, said Friday’s meeting has decided to write to the Finance Ministry again for the CCTV footage.
“We don’t have the complete and relevant footage yet,” he said. “So we are going to ask the ministry to provide it.”