CBI chief in a soup after logjam over register

CBI and its director are facing a crisis of identity and authenticity. Will they be able to tide over it?

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | September 15, 2014


CBI director Ranjit Sinha
CBI director Ranjit Sinha

Braving a storm over the logbook of visitors at his official residence, CBI director Ranjit Sinha is treading on thin ice. While he submitted on September 12 the affidavit as sought by the supreme court, he resisted demands to step down. But how long will he be able to defend himself with his “you have to catch a thief through a thief” logic?
Observers say he might be eventually asked to go, as the government is keeping a close tab over the issue of alleged misconduct and impropriety on Sinha’s part. Top official sources say Sinha might soon be ‘persuaded’ to go on leave. But for now, he seems to be brazening it out.

Another option is to ask Sinha to voluntarily keep himself away from sensitive investigations in both the coal and 2G scams. Sources said the Narendra Modi government should, in either way, act immediately to send a message that it had zero tolerance for corruption and the man who was appointed as the CBI chief during the previous UPA regime was not fit for the chair. There is a counter-argument to it as well, to let him continue for another three months, till November, when he is due to retire.

As far as the official stand is concerned, the government is not revealing its cards just yet. “The government will take a view as and when required,” said minister of state for personnel Jeetendra Singh, whose ministry has the administrative control over the CBI.

Former CBI director Joginder Singh says, “The government cannot remove him so easily as in the Vineet Narain case judgment in 1997 the supreme court  fixed a two-year tenure for the CBI director. The apex court had also said the director can be transferred only in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances with the approval of the selection committee comprising the central vigilance commissioner, home secretary and secretary (personnel). The government will have to go to the same court with evidence against the director.”

But supreme court lawyer Avni Sahu says, “Evidence can be placed before the same committee that was instrumental in his (Sinha’s) appointment. It can then see whether a person (Sinha) is fit (to continue). They may throw him out from the department and start an investigation against him.”

Sahu further says, “Meeting anyone is not an offence unless there is prima facie evidence showing attempts to derail the investigation. Otherwise mere impropriety is not enough to remove the investigating officer, but the issue is still very serious, as the CBI’s credibility is at stake.”

Adds the former CBI director, “By no means (CBI) director should meet an accused, either in office or at home. This is a serious issue. Though meeting does not mean an officer is corrupt, it sends a wrong message as it (CBI director’s) is not a public office.”

Amrendra Saran, senior supreme court counsel who is representing Sinha, says no law has been broken. “There is no validity of the register on (the basis of) which several allegations have been built. It is neither authentic, nor valid as it has not been signed by any one. I don’t think this is a valid ground and on top of that he (Sinha) has not influenced investigation in any manner as his subordinates are investigating the case and none of them have been put under any pressure.”

Sinha has been in controversy since a diary of visitors at his official residence went public.

The disclosure, first by a newspaper and then in an affidavit filed in the supreme court by the centre for public interest and litigation (CPIL), put Sinha in the dock over his repeated meetings with the accused or other people (Sinha claimed were friends) concerned with the 2G spectrum allocation scam and coal block allocation scam.
The list of his visitors includes the names of top officials of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group (ADAG) against whom inquiry in the 2G case is on. Though the names are not mentioned in full – Tony, Toni, Setu, Setu Raman, Toni+Setu – they correspond to the names of ADAG officials Tony Jesudasan and AN Sethuraman and the car they traveled in is also registered in the name of ADAG.

The duo visited Sinha’s residence 27 times this year and many more times last year. Sinha has previously been under scathing attack for allegedly trying to scuttle the investigation against Reliance Telecom and this unraveling of facts puts him on shaky ground.

These two are not the only names in the logbook. Meat exporter Moin Qureshi, against whom the income tax department conducted investigations for hawala dealings, was another regular visitor (51 times from May 2013 to August 2014) at 2 Janpath. It may be of interest that Qureshi also had close relations with Sinha’s predecessor AP Singh.

“It appears that all the accused were being favoured by the CBI director and how they were having a nexus should be investigated by an SIT as a very respectable post’s credibility is in question,” says Prashant Bhushan, who is representing CPIL in the apex court.

The logbook also has the names of Mahendra Nahta (the managing director of Himachal Futuristic Communication Ltd and one of the accused in the 2G scam who visited 2 Janpath more than 60 times from May 2013 to July 2014), and Vijay and Devender Darda and MP Rungta who are accused in the coal scam.

The register, a copy of which is with Governance Now, mentions a clear instruction (see picture) by “Madam” whose name is not mentioned: “Mithilesh and Shailendraji should not be stopped from coming inside the house. Once they come in, it should be informed in the kitchen by phone.” Mithilesh, Sinha claims, is his childhood friend. What he does not say is that he is also a coal mining expert.

Over the previous weeks, Sinha has tried various explanations – calling it intrusion of privacy, questioning the authenticity of the register, saying some names fictitious, and that it was to know the conduct of junior CBI officers who were investigating high-profile cases – for his meeting so many accused, his defence is crumbling in the face of serious allegations.

The CPIL has demanded his removal as according to it, Sinha, as the CBI director, made every possible attempt to scuttle and negate investigations in the 2G case by attempting to save former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran, Maxis Communications and Reliance Telecom and other influential accused who are already facing trial. “Sinha’s attempts to save Reliance (Telecom) and other accused in 2G case have to be seen in light of the frequent visits of the senior officials of Reliance (Telecom) with whom he met not in his office but in his residence and without the investigation officers being present,” says the additional affidavit filed by the CPIL.

CPIL sought that the CBI director “be prevented from interfering in 2G case investigations”, an SIT probe be launched into the “gross abuse of authority committed by the CBI director” and the court to direct the central government to initiate steps for his removal as the CBI director and to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him.
The supreme court on September 9 had asked Sinha to file an affidavit within 10 days as to why an SIT probe should not be initiated against him. The next hearing is on September 19.

This is not the first time that Sinha’s name has been dragged into controversy. Earlier when he was DIG in the CBI under joint director UN Biswas, he was accused of helping Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam case in 1996. The CBI was then indicted and Sinha was removed by Patna high court. He was then posted as officer on special duty to Bihar Bhawan in New Delhi, a post specially created for Sinha by Lalu.

There was a serious controversy over his appointment as the CBI director in December 2012 as well. The opposition (BJP) had raised objections to his “out-of-turn” appointment while ignoring then NIA chief Sharad Sinha and UP cadre IPS officer Atul (who goes by single name).

In 2013, Sinha courted controversy by “revealing” that the draft investigative report of CBI on coal allocation had been vetted by then law minister Ashwani Kumar. The supreme court, as a result, ordered the formulation of a law that could insulate the “caged parrot” from political intrusion.

This story first appeared in Magazine Vol 05 Issue 16(16-30 Sept 2014)

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