Interview

Optimism on speedy 2G spectrum scam trial

R. K. RAGHAVAN: ‘My vision is that the CBI should be as powerful and esteemed as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’. Photo: R.V.Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

R.K. Raghavan , the distinguished former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), spoke to J. Venkatesan in the context of the Supreme Court asking the Central government to set up a Special Court to try the 2G spectrum scam case. In the hour-long interview done in New Delhi on February 13, he also spoke on a range of issues including the future of the CBI, and the need to strengthen it by means of a special enactment and insulate it from political influence. Excerpts:

The Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI investigation into the mammoth 2G spectrum scam. How far do you think the probe will go? Will it meet the same fate as those announced earlier into other big scams?

I'm quite confident that the investigation will be taken to its logical conclusion with several charge sheets [being filed] against many individuals. I'm equally sanguine about a speedy trial. The Supreme Court may even fix a deadline for its conclusion. It could possibly direct a day-to-day trial.

Can the CBI go beyond the conspiracy angle and take action against the beneficiaries of the 2G scam? Do you think a separate court could bring quick justice in this case?

It would be ridiculous if the beneficiaries are not proceeded against. The CBI will undoubtedly do this within the framework of the law.

Do you think the Supreme Court should constitute a committee to monitor a further probe, as you have suggested?

I strongly endorse this. Since this is a massive investigation, a committee, headed by a former Supreme Court judge or [former] High Court judge, a reputed lawyer who is knowledgeable in criminal matters, and a former CBI officer, perhaps of the rank of Inspector General of Police, may be of great assistance to the court. It should be able to report to the Supreme Court from time to time on the details of the progress in the investigation.

Do you think the Supreme Court should confine itself to monitoring the investigation, or can it go further, taking steps such as vetting the charge sheet? Will the Supreme Court approving the charge sheet affect the rights of the accused to claim discharge from the case?

This is a matter for debate. Going by the importance of the matter, nothing can be left to chance. Vetting of the charge sheet can be done by the committee that I have suggested. This will ensure that there are no gaps. This procedure will not in any way prejudice a fair trial; the accused will have every opportunity to defend themselves.

The Supreme Court is now seized of the matter of the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). Do you feel that the process of the CBI Director's appointment should be similar to that for the CVC's appointment?

I strongly believe that the CBI Director's appointment should also be done by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Union Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, it should be by consensus. None will have a veto power. The current procedure makes the Director feels obliged to the ruling party or coalition, even though he is generally chosen on the basis of seniority and merit and he enjoys a fixed tenure of a minimum of two years. This is a step that would further strengthen his independence from the executive.

Should the CBI be vested with more powers, free from political influence?

Insularity from political pressure is an absolute must. At present such insularity does not exist. The Single Directive [as spelt out by the Supreme Court in Vineet Narain] that requires government approval for even a preliminary enquiry against officers of and above the rank of Joint Secretary, considerably whittles down the Director's authority. Worse is the dependence on the government for preferring an appeal against acquittals. The provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure in this regard, which vests authority on the government [whether or not to appeal] needs to be deleted so that the Director becomes the sole authority in the matter. At present, this authority is perceived as being misused by governments.

What is the future of the CBI and its role in combating corruption and other crimes?

It is not all that well-known that the CBI suffers from a serious resources crunch. It has about 4,000 officers and carries a large number of vacancies at any point of time.

The actual number of investigating officers works out to about 1,000. They are required to handle the 1,000 and odd new cases registered every year and also tackle the huge number of pending cases. How do you expect speedy investigation in such a situation? Also, promotion opportunities for directly-recruited officers of the CBI are far too limited, leading to a severe morale problem. If the CBI is treated like any other government department, we will be stuck with an inefficient machinery, that too at a time when corruption in public services is nearly at its peak.

More than anything else, the CBI needs statutory recognition. It survives on an executive order and derives powers from an antiquated Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. Several draft Bills for a CBI Act prepared at different points of time are pending with the government. But there is no political will to bring a draft bill before Parliament. This is because no political party would like to see a strong CBI that does not depend on the mercies of the executive. As in the case of corruption, this indifference cuts across party lines. And no party is a saint as far as the misuse of the CBI is concerned.

If the organisation enjoys relative independence, we must thank the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, for his judgment in the hawala case (1997) wherein he laid down a procedure for the appointment of a Director and gave a mandatory tenure of two years. I think this tenure is too short for a Director to leave an impression of his abilities. Remember, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States enjoys a 10-year tenure so as to make it co-terminus with a U.S. President's two terms in office. It is the President who appoints the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, of course after obtaining the Senate's ratification.

My vision is that the CBI should be as powerful and esteemed as the FBI. This is possible only if it receives a massive outlay in terms of manpower and technology. I want it to be on a par with the FBI in being able to investigate the most complicated cyber crimes, including any possible cyber attacks on the Indian defence and information technology systems. At present it does not possess this capability.

Divesting the CBI of its authority to take up cases involving terrorism through a new National Investigation Agency (NIA) is highly debatable. This is a poor reflection on the ability of India's premier investigating body. Even if this step cannot be reversed, what is the harm in making the NIA a wing of the CBI, so that the CBI Director oversees its work? After all, you choose the seniormost and the most competent Indian Police Service officer to head the CBI. Why don't you use his talent to solve terrorist crimes? The argument that he does not have the time to take up this task is specious.

What is your experience as the chief of the Special Investigation team (SIT) in monitoring the Gujarat riots cases? Are you satisfied with the progress so far?

The SIT, comprising officers from both Gujarat and outside with a good track record of investigation, is an interesting experiment. It is a good tool through which courts can ensure objectivity and quality in controversial and complicated investigations. If it succeeds — there is no reason why it will not — it would provide the greatest assistance to all courts, including the Supreme Court, in future contingencies. For me personally, this has been a great learning process. My interaction with two great lawyers — Harish Salve and Raju Ramachandran — who are the amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court, has been a rewarding experience. They have done a great job in bringing the balance required in a contentious matter under probe. Handling the non-governmental organisations here has required great skill and patience. I am the richer for this. More than all these, if I have survived these three years, it is solely because of the unfailing courtesy and understanding shown to me by the distinguished three-member Bench of the Supreme Court. Also relevant is the cooperation extended by the Union Home Ministry and the State government.

I must mention here that the Supreme Court directive on witness protection has been strictly enforced. Wherever there was even a hint of a complaint, the SIT has moved fast. This has ensured that the deposition of prosecution witnesses, especially victims, has been in an environment generally free from threat or inducement. I am satisfied with the progress made by the SIT .One case, the main Godhra case, is ready for pronouncing the judgment, slated for February 19. Except for two other cases, [concerning] Naroda Gaon and Naroda Pathiya, in the rest of the six cases the trial is nearly over. My nine teams have done a great job, despite several odds.

What are your comments on the CBI's handling of the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case, in which the court has issued summons to the dental surgeon couple?

The CBI faced a formidable task here, with no eyewitnesses to the ghastly crime. It was honest enough to admit its failure in this regard, and rested with pointing out its suspicion. Yes, possibly, in the initial stages, giving too many details to the media was unwise. But then, you must remember it was operating under the full public glare and it was driven to take a position halfway during the investigation. I'm sure the CBI will be able to learn from this [experience], which the CBI top brass will disseminate down to the last CBI official.


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