At a time when Prime Minister rendra Modi has begun to use the twin planks of development and anti-corruption in setting the agenda for public discourse, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal keeps reiterating his government’s ‘zero tolerance’ to graft. It is a welcome change from his predecessor Tarun Gogoi who would often belligerently challenge scribes to show him where corruption was going on in the State, or in which part of the world is there no corruption! At least in Chief Minister Sonowal’s term, we are seeing some pro-active use of the Home department’s powers. The vigilance and anti-corruption cell of Assam Police is laying traps and probing several cases of alleged graft. It is investigating scams in the Social Welfare department, Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Excise and some other departments and even allegations of irregularities in KKH State Open University. Its sleuths have caught Forest, Excise and Water Resources officials red handed in the act; recently they bbed a former Director of Social Welfare department on the run since February this year, even as another former Director of the same department remains absconding. It is clear that the rot of corruption runs wide and deep in the State’s officialdom. Investigating agencies too are not above suspicion about tipping off suspects beforehand, destroying evidence and going slow. While vigilance and anti-corruption cell can lay traps under CrPC provisions and conduct prelimiry probe, it needs the Home and Political department’s sanction for prosecution. Chief Minister Sonowal has been directing this cell to launch probes into several cases, and these are all at various stages. But the feeling has steadily grown that the investigations are reaching only up to a certain level, that there is much pussyfooting around whenever the needle of suspicion points to top officials and politicians, and that corrupt sections of officialdom are fighting back tooth and il to stymie the CM’s anti-graft campaign.
Media reports have now highlighted the travails of Assam Police CID after registering cases but then onwards coming up against a wall of non-cooperation put up by some departments, which had made the complaint in the first place. Reportedly, in an official letter to the State Chief Secretary recently, the CID chief has taken serious issue with departments like Agriculture and Excise which have repeatedly stonewalled CID requests for relevant documents to carry forward investigations. In fact, a modus operandi seems to have gained currency with some departments first rushing to make complaints apparently to put themselves in the clear, and then ‘washing their hands off the matter’ by turning a deaf year to all CID requests for cooperation. So having registered a case, CID sleuths are left high and dry in making any progress towards the prosecution stage. The CID chief is reported to have suggested that State departments should first conduct an interl probe whenever any irregularity is suspected — and only on the basis of relevant facts and papers unearthed by such probes should the matter be thereafter handed over to the police investigative wings. Sadly, many such departmental probes in the past have proved to be nothing but mere eyewash, with concerned officials hell bent on cover-up and protecting their own. While the CID chief’s missive is a matter of concern for all who hope against hope for a clean administration, it reflects in no uncertain terms the frustrations of investigating agencies in taking official graft cases to logical conclusions. It is a fact that the CID has to wait inorditely long for prosecution sanctions against top government officials in various graft cases. A case in point is the CID request for prosecution sanction of five Agriculture department officials sent in mid-April this year, which then lay for over a month with a dealing assistant. After the five accused officials maged to secure bail and the media raised the issue, the Agriculture minister ordered a probe to find those in his department who had kept him in the dark about the CID’s request and ‘fix responsibility’! Clearly, the CM’s zero tolerance policy towards graft will need to deal with such elements in effective manner, ensure speedy flow of information and streamline the mechanisms of investigation and prosecution.