The CBI’s one-man aberration

The Supreme Court’s indictment of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha for unprofessional conduct strikes a blow for those who have been fighting for probity in public life

Updated - April 20, 2016 05:47 am IST

Published - November 22, 2014 12:45 am IST

IN TROUBLE, ALL ALONE: “Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha ploughed a lonely furrow and steered the CBI all by himself to the shallow waters it now finds itself in.” Picture shows him at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

IN TROUBLE, ALL ALONE: “Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha ploughed a lonely furrow and steered the CBI all by himself to the shallow waters it now finds itself in.” Picture shows him at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

It was a sad day for the premier investigating agency of the country. The Supreme Court’s recent indictment of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha for unprofessional conduct struck a blow for those who have been fighting for probity in public life. It also devastates those like me who had been campaigning for long on the need for greater autonomy for the CBI. Both the judiciary and the average citizen, who expect a high degree of professionalism from the organisation, feel betrayed by the mindlessness of one individual who chose to ignore the values that should regulate the conduct of every CBI officer. I wonder how D.P. Kohli, the phenomenally ethical pioneer of this critical agency, would have reacted to such a turn of events. His heart would certainly have bled at this unseemly happening wherein a CBI chief has been found indulging in activities that cut at the roots of all honest criminal investigation. Even conceding that a few elements of doubtful integrity have crept into the CBI in the recent past, I do not subscribe to the theory that the latest episode is after all a true reflection of the state of affairs of the organisation. It is only an aberration.

From all accounts, Mr. Sinha ploughed a lonely furrow and steered the CBI all by himself to the shallow waters it now finds itself in. The episode is especially painful for many former officers like me who were proud to work for the organisation and produce results that were hailed by courts and victims of crime alike. Solving a crime that involves sleaze and public servant misconduct has always been a complex task. It has become much more so in recent times which are marked by unprecedented hostility towards law enforcement agencies. There are many in the underworld and those who have clandestine links with them who do not want the CBI to succeed. These unholy elements should now be gloating over the developments of the past few weeks.

No credit for candour

The gravamen of the charges against Mr. Sinha is that he was meeting some accused persons in the 2G scam at his residence, all by himself, without the presence of any of his officers, that too a number of times. Mr. Sinha has admitted the veracity of this allegation, but has claimed that these were only in order to check whether his investigating officers (IOs) were performing their tasks on right lines. Unfortunately, we cannot give Mr. Sinha any credit for this candour. He had possibly no options but to concede that these highly questionable meetings did indeed take place, because the NGO which had filed a PIL against him had adduced irrefutable documentary evidence — entries in a visitors’ book maintained at the Director’s official residence — in support of their averment. The initial stand that the entries were bogus ultimately gave in to grudging acceptance of their truth. Mr. Sinha’s defence later shifted to one of blaming a mole within the CBI who had been in league with the NGO to settle scores with him. (I am happy that the apex court called back its earlier order to the NGO for revealing the identity of the suspected mole.)

Worse was to follow. This was the reported letting down of one of Mr. Sinha’s staff officers who was accused of having been a mole and supplying the information which buttressed the NGO’s case against Mr. Sinha. My enquiries reveal that this particular officer, a Deputy Inspector General of Police from the Maharashtra Cadre of the IPS, has a sterling character. He had antagonised his boss because he put his foot down against wanton twists to the 2G investigation which were contrary to established facts and would have diluted the prosecution stand. Such damning of a junior colleague could lead to irrecoverable loss of morale down the line. That too at a time when the CBI was investigating ever so many crucial cases which required enormous hard work under stressful conditions. The claim of Mr. Sinha’s counsel that no officer was named as having been a mole is subject to verification. The grapevine is that this young officer was, in fact, mentioned.

What ultimately cooked Mr. Sinha’s goose was perhaps the report of the Special Prosecutor Anand Grover appointed by the Supreme Court. Mr. Grover is said to have found Mr. Sinha guilty on two counts: receiving undesirable visitors linked to the 2G scam and trying to steer the CBI into accepting their defence against available evidence to the contrary and delaying the charge sheet in the Aircel-Maxis case. These are grave charges which no judiciary or civil administration can afford to ignore.

There are no indications that Mr. Sinha will quit on his own, as demanded by many in the public and in the media. This is despite the fact that he has less than a fortnight to go before retirement. It is a call that he will have to make. I do not fancy the government taking suo motu action in the matter, as it may not like to create yet another controversy. In my view, Supreme Court-mandated two-year tenure cannot come in the way of a drastic disciplinary action, such as termination of an offending CBI chief. This is contrary to fundamentals of public administration where every employee of the government is accountable to the state. Perhaps new amendments to the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act will be required to get over this anomalous legal position.

The next major question is whether the charges against Mr. Sinha will need to be pursued even after his retirement. It would be strange if the government does not order a probe. Mr. Sinha himself may welcome this because he has taken a moral high ground and has charged his detractors with a conspiracy based on falsities. In any case there is a definite case for looking into Mr. Grover’s report, if only to send out the message that if there are allegations against a high functionary, these will be followed up in the interest of maintaining integrity in high places. An enquiry by a former Supreme Court judge alone will carry credibility here.

This finally brings us to the important question of finding a successor to Mr. Sinha. With the passage of the Lok Pal Act, the selection panel now comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee. There are reports that the government is contemplating an amendment to the DSPE Act that will provide for the leader of the single largest party to stand in if there is no designated Leader of the Opposition. This is a welcome move to ensure that a new incumbent has wide acceptability.

Seniority over merit?

One criterion that weighed heavily in Mr. Sinha’s selection was that he was the senior most IPS officer in the country at the time of his selection. This was unexceptionable, if only the unsavoury episode surrounding his conduct had not happened. We have to be wiser after this. The selection process should consider even those who are a few places lower, but who are within the zone of consideration of three batches prescribed for the whole process after a Supreme Court directive in the matter. In sum, the tyranny of seniority should not be allowed to ignore the claims of a relatively junior candidate. Such a wholly merit-oriented process can help to give the prize job to a really deserving candidate who has a track record for probity. We want a CBI director who will not only be competent and honest, but who will not be swayed by regional or caste considerations. In the ultimate analysis, it is the individual chosen who will have to prove that he will not compromise on integrity. It is now our experience that no built-in procedure will ever keep a Ranjit Sinha away.

(R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director)

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