The Supreme Court’s stern rebuke to former CBI chief Ranjit Sinha for lacking ‘ethical rectitude’ in the coal scam probe has brought the role of the entire investigation agency under a cloud. The apex court now wants Sinha to be investigated by the Central Vigilance Commission for abuse of power. Saying it was ‘completely ippropriate’ for Sinha to have privately met the coal scam accused in the absence of investigating officers, the Supreme Court now wants to know whether such meetings influenced the investigations and subsequent chargesheets or closure reports filed by the CBI. However, not just the coal block allocation scam, prominent persons allegedly involved in the 2G spectrum scam, the Nira Radia tapes controversy and other matters the CBI was probing — were also known to have been frequent visitors at Sinha’s official residence in New Delhi. This came to light after a whistleblower handed over a visitor’s logbook at Sinha’s residence to sections of the media and anti-corruption activist Prashant Bhushan. The logbook covered several days in 2013 and 2014, the entries showing corporate bigwigs and high-profile politicians under the CBI scanner — privately meeting Sinha throughout the day and late into night. When this expose created a stink, Sinha was removed by the Supreme Court from the CBI’s 2G spectrum probe in November last year. Now the Supreme Court wants to ascertain whether Sinha tried to scuttle or influence the coal scam probe as well.
What has shocked the apex court is Sinha’s candid admission that he had met the accused persons, beacause ‘it was part of his job to listen to their side of the story’. The bench however pointed out that while Sinha had the responsibility to ensure an innocent person is not subjected to a crimil trial, that responsibility should have been coupled with an equally high degree of ethical rectitude required of an investigating officer to ensure probe is conducted in all fairness, ‘not only to the accused persons but also to the victim of any crime, whether the victim is an individual or the State’. In fact, Sinha tried to further brazen it out in court by questioning the veracity of the visitors logbook, the anonymous whistleblower who exposed it, as well as activist Prashant Bhushan and NGO ‘Common Cause’ for levelling ‘baseless allegations on oath to mislead the court’. However, the Supreme Court has now ruled that Prashant Bhushan, the NGO and the whistleblower acted in public interest. Interestingly, the CBI tried to resist a further probe against Sinha, who retired last December, pleading before the apex court that such a probe will lead to the agency ‘losing its credibility’. Rejecting this argument as fallacious, the bench pointed out — ‘If an independent inquiry shows that the CBI has acted fairly, it will enhance its institutiol credibility and its image. On the other hand, if the inquiry shows that Mr Sinha maged to influence some specific investigations in the coal block allocations case, it will serve the larger public interest’. What comes through clearly is the CBI’s doggedness in preventing any searchlight into its own workings.
The image of the CBI has taken a severe beating over the years as an agency perceived to be more willing to act as the sword arm of its political masters to cut their rivals to size. Successive governments at the Centre must share this blame, considering their refusal to let go of control over the CBI. Whether it is the Taj Corridor probe against Mayavati or the Disproportiote Assets probe against Mulayam Singh Yadav, there have been allegations in the past that the CBI would suddenly begin investigating actively whenever the Central government of the day needed their support in Parliament! So when the CBI takes up the Saradha chit fund probe in right earnest, it is hardly surprising to hear Mamata Bannerjee accusing the present BJP government at the Centre of using the CBI as its political hammer to strike at the Trimool base in West Bengal. Ironically it was rendra Modi who once dubbed the CBI the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’ when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, with the CBI going hammer and tongs against Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. Two years back while hearing the coal scam case, an exasperated Supreme Court took the CBI to task by calling it a ‘caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice’. However, even in several apparently ‘non-political’ investigations too, the role of the CBI has left much to be desired. In the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case, after the prime accused, the son of an IPS officer, was let off the hook due to what a judge called ‘deliberate iction’ by the CBI, it was left for the Delhi High Court to take matters into its own hands and deliver exemplary justice. As for the Arushi Talwar murder case, the CBI simply tied itself up into knots. There have been allegations of top CBI officials taking bribes and interfering in probes, of preventing their own investigators from making arrests or registering FIRs, and many a times closing cases without proper investigations. If the CVC probe into Ranjit Sinha’s role comes about under pressure from the Supreme Court, more skeletons may yet tumble from the CBI’s cupboard and bring it under public glare.