Former Joint Director, CBI, B.R. Lall bares the working of the premier investigative agency and reveals the mindset of officials who hesitate to touch the political masters and take action against them. The rule of law does not apply to those who are supposed to enforce it. Some of the scams that rocked the nation—the Jain Hawala case, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha affair that rocked the PV Narasimha Rao government, the Lakhubhai Pathak deal, the Indian Bank scandal and the fodder scam — all prove how the investigations were thwarted and those in power allowed to go scot-free. Exclusive excerpts from the book that gives an idea of how the CBI works
The Jain Hawala Case
In the Jain Hawala case (1995), the CBI did not look into the allegations against the highest authority, despite patent reasons prima facie. When the name of the then PM, Narasimha Rao, occurred in Jain’s statement, all out efforts were mounted by none other than the director CBI himself to ensure that this part of the statement was not brought on record at all. However, when efforts of the director failed, the team itself was broken and the leaders were removed from the scene, thereby ensuring that investigations could not verify the unwanted facts.
Jain had linked the tendering process of various projects and kickbacks in them to the Hawala scam. Examination of these projects, as such, was of utmost importance as only that could provide evidence into the rationale of bunglings, but the same was abandoned on the ground that this aspect was not a part of Jain Diaries, which the CBI was investigating. It was conveniently ignored that bungling in projects was the rationale of all the kickbacks and it is these kickbacks which generated the largesse the Jains distributed. Thus, the investigators were restrained from tracing the origin of slush funds, the distribution of which the CBI was investigating. It is never done in any investigation unless the intention is to scuttle it. A reading of the chargesheets itself would give that impression to anyone conversant with law or investigations. All this was done as big names right upto the Prime Minister’s were involved.
No big persons were interrogated, arrested or searched in the main corruption case. Besides Jains, some officials and politicians out of power were the only ones who were interrogated, searched or arrested. It is a basic principle that interrogation is the beginning of the investigation and chargesheet is laid only if there is evidence at the end. Since chargesheets were laid, it can safely be presumed that the evidence for bribery and corruption did exist. If it were so, interrogations and searches should have been conducted, but it was not done except in cases of smaller persons or politicians out of power.
The big shots were spared all these legal steps that were likely to adduce evidence. It is for different reasons that later on, all those whose names occurred in the diaries had to be chargesheeted, but they were spared from being searched. If the evidence was enough for chargesheets, it was more than sufficient to carry out searches. But evidence that would have flowed from searches, would have been damning and unsparing, whereas the general chargesheet, bereft of evidence, was the most gentle treatment and a real big favour that could be done to any accused person as that would defuse the situation immediately, and later during court trial, the hon’ble accused would get acquittal for lack of evidence. It is unfortunate for them that the court only discharged and did not order acquittal. The stigma of a chargesheet will always remain as Justice Verma inferred in 1998, that further investigation and trial could be resumed at any time in future, if some fresh evidence ever surfaced.
Custodial interrogation is a very effective instrument, but the same was scrupulously avoided. If custodial interrogation was necessary in case of Jains and other smaller fries, it was needed much more against whom there were allegations of accepting bribes. The responsibility of a public servant whether a politician or an official is much higher than the middlemen, which the Jains were.
Whenever there is reason to believe that the accused is ordinarily a taker of bribes, it is necessary and is routine to look into his assets. When chargesheets in Hawala case were being laid, it was clear that as per CBI, there was enough evidence against them for having accepted bribe. The assets of some of them had also been verified to be disproportionate prima facie in secret enquiries, but the honourable suspects were still given the most favoured dignitary treatment by sparing them from being investigated for the DA (Disproportionate Assets).
In the JMM case, the bribe takers were interrogated, arrested and searched. In the Hawala case, on the other hand, only the bribe givers met with similar treatment. This was bound to happen, as the bribe giver was a smaller fry as compared to the takers in the Hawala case, whereas the giver was the elite, the big, and the top, in the JMM case. The eternal feudal principle is to save the master, the big, the elite and in both the cases the mandate of unwritten elitist laws was carried out.
At the time of the trial in the JMM case, however, the judiciary on technical grounds spared the bribe takers, the smaller people, but that was with regard to immunity for conduct inside the legislature. The judge presiding over the trial court has rightly charged those MPs for possession of disproportionate assets, which was scrupulously avoided in the Hawala case, but this again, only proves the rule of feudal bias.
Whenever the name of a serving PM occurred in CBI investigations in the past, the investigations came to a halt. It was only in Hawala case that the team had the courage to record his name and suggest investigations against the PM. In a number of countries, their Chief Executives have been investigated and are also being investigated, as there is nothing special in crime committed by them. Unlike India, no regard is shown in corruption cases even for the special services rendered by the corrupt.
A similar situation arose in Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) case (1995) in which also the Delhi High Court suspected Joginder Singh’s bonafides. Singh was posted as Director, CBI in July 1996. He had taken this case away from the SP, Arun Sinha, a straightforward officer determined to do the right. Sinha was deep into the case when Singh asked him to conclude the case in a particular way and to collect evidence accordingly. When Sinha refused to oblige, Joginder Singh transferred him from Delhi to Silchar branch and thus took away the case from him. The court restored the case to the same SP and asked the DIG and the SP to report directly to the court. It also ordered that no papers concerning the case should be shown to Joginder Singh, nor the case be discussed with him. The main accused in the JMM case was none other than P. V. Narsimha Rao, the Congress President on whom the Government of Deve Gowda was dependent for political support.
It was for the second time that a High Court suspected the bona fides of the director personally. Thus, two different High Courts had barred director Joginder Singh from the scrutiny of the records of his own organisation. He also had the distinction of being reprimanded for unbecoming conduct by the Supreme Court. It is remarkable that the three courts independently identified similar aberrations in him in such a short time.
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In the sensitive cases, Joginder Singh would dictate or at least indicate in advance how a particular case or a person was to be treated. IOs were expected to mould, tailor or create evidence accordingly, which basically should be foreign to the members of a fact-finding organisation like the CBI.
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Arun Sinha, the SP, confided in me later that Joginder Singh had asked him to change the case diary and a material statement and on his refusal to oblige, he was sent to Silchar from where he came back under court orders.
till such time his mentor required the help of Rao.
Lakhubhai Pathak deal
When Lakhubhai Pathak made a complaint initially in 1987, it included the name of P.V. Narasimha Rao but since he and his party were in power, the case was not registered. It is a matter of common knowledge that the case was registered a few years later. When the circumstances went beyond the control of the CBI and registering a criminal case became a compulsion, a special officer was deputed from Delhi to U.K. to obtain a fresh application from Lakhubhai Pathak which did not contain the name of P.V. Narasimha Rao. The case was registered on the basis of such amended application. The factual statement of Lakhubhai Pathak in the trial court about presence of PVNR posed a material contradiction that was more than enough to break prosecution story and the case ended in acquittal. This is a very clear example how the deliberate scuttling of VIP cases goes on in the agency.
Indian Bank Scam
It is interesting though unfortunate to see how the officers think and act while under pressure even if the nation suffers tremendously. One of my branches was looking into a case of Indian Bank, (1995) where the bungled amount with other consequential losses had risen to almost Rs 100 crore. Another branch of the CBI was also investigating almost a similar amount for the same bank. In both these cases it is the Chairman of the bank who had committed the indiscretion by asking and coercing his officers to advance loans where it was patently known that these would be unrecoverable. Also there were reasons to believe that the staff down the line had pointed out in no uncertain terms. Our verifications established that informal understanding was that these monies advanced by way of loans will not be returned at all. When these cases were under investigation, we received papers about extension case of Gopalakrishnan, the CMD of the bank. I fully opposed extension and drafted a detailed note clearly pointing out that he should not be allowed any extension and that if extension was allowed, we will be investigating many times more the value after the end of two years extended term. One day after a few weeks while we were in a meeting with the Director, he received a call. We heard the Director responding "no Sir, who can call you blind." After finishing the call, the Director asked me if I wrote to the Finance Secretary, Mr Montek Ahluwalia that he was blind. I was surprised as there was no occasion to my mind, as I had never met him. The Director then told that the Finance Secretary was referring to some Indian Bank case of extension to CMD. I could not recall what it was all about. I called for the file there and then. I had mentioned that even a blind man can see the whole range of bunglings indulged into by Gopalakrishnan and if he is allowed another two years it will cause havoc. I showed that to the Director and told him that it was metaphorical and not that the Finance Secretary was physically blind. At the same time in a lighter vein I quipped that if still Gopalakrishnan is granted extension, the Finance Secretary and the Government of India deserved to be termed as blind. Sure enough the extension was granted.
The question that arises is why the Finance Ministry, that granted extension despite the obvious, should not be held responsible and made to pay the entire amount sanctioned during the extended period that turned bad.
He (Joginder Singh) tried to undo all the efforts of U.N. Biswas, Joint Director, handling Bihar’s animal husbandry scam (1996), obviously following the political equations and possible political dictates. He issued transfer orders confining Biswas, to Calcutta, i. e. taking away charge of Patna. When this met with severe criticism, he decided to confine Biswas only to Patna to harass and embarrass him.
Meanwhile, it was time to file the status papers in the High Court on September 30, 1996. Biswas had taken great pains to prepare the papers, compiling meticulously the evidence against persons involved in the scam, including Laloo Prasad Yadav. He concluded that evidence existed against him requiring detailed investigation. I saw the papers with Biswas who had a tough time as the Director would not agree for even the mention of Laloo’s name in the report.
A via media was found. The CBI’s senior most officer, next to the Director, was asked to prepare a report, which could be filed in the High Court. The reporter was to make a mention of Laloo’s name, but would not talk about the extent of his involvement at that stage of investigation.
R. C. Sharma, Special Director, prepared the report accordingly. It was learnt that Joginder Singh threw this report into the dustbin and prepared another report deleting Laloo’s name. He gave a copy of the same duly sealed to Biswas to be filed in Patna High Court. Biswas had seen and agreed to the report as edited by R. C. Sharma, but was shocked when the report was read out in the court.
Biswas, on enquiry, informed the court that it was not his report. The High Court asked Biswas to report directly to it, as obviously, the Director could not be relied upon. Joginder Singh stood barred from looking into any papers related to the AHD scam. An extraordinary situation had been created.
In an organisation like the CBI, political commitment can never be tolerated. The order might have tarnished the CBI’s fair name and honour beyond redemption, but the High Court was perfectly justified in passing such an extraordinary order and for taking such an exceptional step, never meted out to any officer, much less the Director.
Left to Joginder Singh, Biswas would have been thrown out of the CBI, but the Patna High Court ruled that no officer investigating the AHD case would be transferred without the court’s permission.
No rules for the
high and mighty
It was a three-day conference of CBI, Chiefs of Anti-Corruption Bureaux of the States and the Central PSUs. On November 20, there was a get-together of only the CBI officers form all over the country. The Director posed us a question: "Why the CBI got adverse publicity despite good working leading to recovery of Rs 4 crore in the Sukh Ram case?" (1996). Only I reacted saying that people did recognise the good work in individual cases, but overall credibility was lacking as the CBI had to do and also to appear to be absolutely truthful and transparent as these were the two-fold basic and fundamental expectations of the people from us. The Director was not prepared to listen to words like truth and straightforwardness. He commented on transparency only that he was absolutely transparent as he was interacting with the Press regularly. My observation that it was publicity and not transparency, peeved him. The issue was left at that.
On the second day of the conference, I wanted to react to a paper on "Fighting Corruption at High Places" presented by an SP, but the director would not allow. When I insisted, an order was served on me in the Conference Hall at Vigyan Bhawan itself commanding me to proceed to Lucknow immediately to supervise the Ayurveda Scam.
In practice, the rule of law does not apply to those who frame rules/laws and who enforce them. The elite thereby assert themselves like masters over slaves who are the commoners, in the continuing colonial traditions of pre-Independence days.
Instead of rule of law, absolute discretion without any control or accountability that too exercised through whims or fancies even for personal interests is considered to be the essence of exercise of power as against judicious discretion in public interest.
The worst is that it is not on way to decay, but is getting stronger with every passing day and acquiring mafia like proportions in our administrative system and psyche.