AAP, BJP in battle over ‘feedback unit’; L-G gives nod to CBI probe

AAP says allegations of political snooping ‘completely bogus’; the BJP demands Sisodia’s resignation

Updated - February 09, 2023 11:45 am IST

Published - February 09, 2023 01:45 am IST - New Delhi

The CBI had sought the L-G’s approval for probe into the matter and registering a case against Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. 

The CBI had sought the L-G’s approval for probe into the matter and registering a case against Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.  | Photo Credit: ANI

A ‘feedback unit’ (FBU) formed by the AAP government in 2015 has led to a fresh political storm in the national capital, with Lieutenant-Governor V.K. Saxena giving his approval to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to file a case against Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia over alleged political intelligence gathering.

In January, the CBI sought approval of the competent authority [L-G] for investigation into the matter and registering a case against Mr. Sisodia with regard to the creation and functioning of the ‘feedback unit’ set up under the Vigilance Department that started functioning from 2016. 

Responding to it, the L-G has recommended the same and forwarded the request to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).  

A preliminary inquiry conducted by the CBI reportedly on a complaint of an officer of the Directorate of Vigilance of the Delhi government in 2016 found that the FBU indulged in gathering political intelligence, according to a note by the L-G recommending the CBI investigation.

The Delhi government has issued an official statement and said the allegations are “completely bogus”.

The creation of the FBU had led to a controversy in 2017 over similar charges of snooping. The then Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal had ordered that the ‘feedback unit’ be shut down even as the CBI continued to conduct a preliminary inquiry looking into its inception without a nod from the L-G’s office, according to sources.

The institution of the unit in the Directorate of Vigilance was among seven cases of alleged corruption in the Delhi government as per the findings of the Shunglu Committee referred by former L-G Najeeb Jung to the CBI. 

The unit was reportedly created to “gather relevant information and actionable feedback”, mostly related to graft, without the knowledge of senior members of the government’s bureaucratic hierarchy. It was allegedly also tasked with setting up sting operations and worked directly under the supervision of the Chief Minister’s Office, according to sources. 

On Wednesday, the BJP demanded the resignation of the Deputy Chief Minister over the incident. Refuting the charges, the Delhi government statement said, “Till now, the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Delhi Police have registered many cases against us. About 163 cases have been registered against us. However, the BJP has not been able to prove even a single case. About 134 of these cases have been dismissed by the courts and in the rest of the cases also, the BJP government at the Centre has not been able to provide any evidence. All these cases are politically motivated. The CBI and ED should rather investigate the dubious relationship between [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and [industralist Gautam] Adani where the real corruption happened.”

The Aam Aadmi Party also issued a statement and dismissed the allegation of political snooping and  called it “a lie”. “Modiji does political snooping, not Manish Sisodia. FIR should be against Modiji and not against Manishji,” AAP said.

According to a CBI official, the probe agency is yet to receive any communication pertaining to the approval sought for a formal investigation into the FBU.

In his note recommending the investigation, the L-G said the CBI analysis suggests a very disturbing scenario about the nature of reports generated by the FBU. “Political intelligence gathering and issues unrelated to vigilance accounted for around 40% of the reports generated. The records reveal that while putting in place the clandestine infrastructure for snooping on political adversaries, the Chief Minister/Deputy Chief Minister deliberately disregarded the constitutional scheme of governance.”

The L-G said the entire scheme of creating the FBU and its modus operandi portray that there was more to hide than can be perceived in the entire exercise.

“Surreptitiously creating an infrastructure for snooping/eavesdropping in the national capital, running, in effect, a parallel system of illegitimate intelligence-gathering infrastructure for gathering political information on adversaries of the party in power, and countering the legitimately established security/intelligence infrastructure of the country, inter alia, is a potent tool for dangerous misuse, especially considering that the unit was manned by retired officials of IB [Intelligence Bureau] and Central paramilitary forces and the details of their functioning or the reports generated by them were directly submitted to the Chief Minister for serving the vested interest of a particular political party,” it read.

The L-G, in his note, said it can be stated without any reasonable doubt that the functioning of FBU was “cloaked in a shroud of secrecy” since its inception. “The Chief Minister/Deputy Chief Minister neither had the legislative backing nor the executive competence to create this covert body aimed at targeted espionage,” it read.

Mr. Saxena said that it can be unambiguously observed that there was a concerted effort by the State government to create an agency that was outside its mandate and not within the constitutional scheme of governance. “There seems to have been a well-conceived attempt to establish an extraneous and parallel covert agency with overarching powers of snooping and trespass, without any legislative, judicial or executive oversight whatsoever,” the note read.

BJP attacks AAP

Leader of the Opposition in Delhi Assembly and BJP MLA Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said Mr. Sisodia should resign immediately as there are so many cases against him. He has no moral or constitutional right to continue in his post, Mr. Bidhuri added.

“Prima facie, the CBI has held Sisodia responsible for setting up the Feedback Unit. He has been the head of the Delhi government’s Vigilance Department and this unit has been formed under him. This unit was given the task of political espionage which was illegal and unethical,” he said. 

 Delhi BJP president Virendra Sachdeva said the Arvind Kejriwal government since its inception in 2015 has been working with hostility towards political opponents and it believes in suppressing them.

“For this purpose, on February 1, 2016, the Kejriwal government established the FBU to keep an eye on not only political opponents but also Union Ministers, MPs, the L-G’s office, media houses, leading businessmen as well as honourable judges,” he said.

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