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Monday, May 5 1997

Is Joginder taking political advantage of the CBI

Neerja Chowdhury

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief, Joginder Singh, has become synonymous with the politicisation of the country's premier investigation agency.And if confirmation was needed that all is not hunky dory with the way the CBI is handling the cases before it, Joginder's April 27 bombshell (that Laloo Yadav, Jagannath Mishra and C P Verma and 53 others would be prosecuted) provided it.

Eight days later, there are still no signs of the charge-sheet. Nor has the CBI initiated the process to get the sanction of the Bihar governor for the prosecution of the Chief Minister or of the President for moving against Verma, a Union Minister in the Gujral government.

In the hawala case, the CBI may not have done its homework properly and this is borne out by the dismissal of cases against Advani and V C Shukla for lack of corroborative evidence. But at least the investigating agency went public only when it was ready with the charge-sheets.

Joginder Singh did not think there was anything amiss in merely airing his ``intentions'' to prosecute the Chief Minister of Bihar.

Here was the CBI chief, saying only two days earlier that that he needed two more weeks to scrutinise the report submitted to him by his juniors which ran into a whopping 2000 pages and 11 volumes. He announced at a press conference in Calcutta on a Friday that he had sought more time from the Patna High Court for filing charge-sheets in the fodder scam. And suddenly he walked into his office on the following Sunday afternoon, got it opened specially, summoned his press officer and had the announcement made that very evening that the CBI was going to prosecute Laloo and company. His turnaround naturally raises questions about what he is up to.

It is also odd that Joginder Singh did not inform the new Prime Minister about what he was about to do. No doubt, the CBI has been asked to function under the direct supervision of the courts in certain sensitive cases. But surely the Prime Minister, who heads the CBI and who as the country's executive head should not be caught by surprise by any action of any wing of the government, should have been informed about impending action against a chief minister. And if Singh could not get an appointment with the PM, he could surely have sent him a note. The crisis, the announcement plunged the Gujral government into, has not ended yet.

Though information about what goes on in the government makes for a greater transparency which is desirable, there are problems in the CBI chief going public before an enquiry is complete. For it can influence the judges and public opinion even before the entire facts of the case have been collated. In this particular instance, the debate provoked by Joginder Singh's Sunday coup can also exert an influence on the Bihar governor and the President, who will be called to accord their sanction once the CBI seeks their `go ahead' for prosecution, and this is not supposed to be a mechanical application of mind.

It is possible that the governor may not decide anything in haste and may seek the views of the Advocate General. In A R Antulay's case, the governor had taken about a month to satisfy himself before ordering prosecution.

The issue may not get resolved so quickly as the governor's decision can be challenged in a court by either side.

The problem has been complicated further by a case pending before the Supreme Court on the Governor's inherent powers to give sanction in such cases, and there is a view that the Governor cannot act till the disposal of that case. Jayalalitha had challenged the powers of the governor after the late Chenna Reddy had given his nod to prosecute her.

There is hardly any need for the CBI chief to face the television cameras day after day. How many secretaries to the Government of India hold press conferences everyday? After all,they are not public figures,and can disseminate information in other ways.

Even Indira Gandhi, who used the appointment of judges and senior officials to political advantage, was careful about observing norms. Rarely did a CBI director meet her but conveyed what he had to through her principal secretary. Singh on the other hand has been known to have operated virtually out of the ante room of the last Prime Minister. It is not surprising therefore that there is an impression that the CBI was being used to settle political scores.

Joginder Singh's strike was obviously a preemptive move, to ensure that he is not eased out. By charge-sheeting Laloo, he has tried to tie the hands of the new Prime Minister, calculating that Gujral would not want to risk giving an impression that he is trying to shield Laloo.

Laloo believes that Deve Gowda is using the CBI chief to get at him, and that Gowda's kitchen cabinet, C M Ibrahim, Ram Vilas Paswan and Shrikant Jena, sold him the idea. (Gowda has not forgiven Laloo and others for demanding he step down before the Vote of Confidence.)

But it now transpires that Gowda was contemplating moving out Joginder Singh just before his government fell because he was not playing ball on everything. Gowda had told senior Congress leaders this. It is also no secret that Singh had opened channels of communication with many political personalities, including Sitaram Kesri and the BJP leaders, in recent months. All this is not to argue that Laloo Yadav is innocent.

There is little doubt of a massive ghotala in the way the animal husbandry department of the Bihar Government has functioned over the years. But now there are suspicions of a ghotala in the manner, and motive, of the investigation and that cannot make for a credible enquiry.

There was a time when the reference of a case to the CBI was viewed as a way of ensuring fairplay and justice. The moment a scandal erupted, the opposition would scream for it to be probed by the CBI. So high was the credibility enjoyed by the investigating agency. But Joginder Singh's latest action has put into question the very logic of the CBI, and not the CID, pursuing the enquiry.

The use of the CBI for political advantage is not a new phenomenon. In the past politicians have used the agency. What is new now is that the head of the agency has tried to use it for self protection.

ParliamentaryCommittee urges review of legislation on CBI

The parliamentary committee of the Ministry of Personnel and Public Grievances has called for a comprehensive review of legislation governing the CBI along with the agency's structural reorganisation. In its 38th report tabled in parliament, the committee strongly felt that steps were needed to be taken to ensure the introduction of the necessary changes so as not to compel the judiciary to pass strictures on the agency as has happened in the recent past few cases.The committee also said that suitable changes should also be made in the ``single directive'', in regard to decision-making level officers so that consultation or concurrence of the administrative ministry is required only at the time of filing the charge-sheet.``It is the considered opinion of the committee that the time spent in seeking concurrence of the administrative machinery before proceeding against senior officials is utilised by the unscrupulous elements for destroying or tampering with evidence,'' the report said.

It said the proposed scheme, where sanction is required only at the time of filing the charge-sheet will be fair to both the investigative agency who will retain the element of surprise with them and the (accused) if there is no case against them. The committee, however, emphasised that the necessary sanction of the administrative ministry be accorded within a definite time-frame and in cases where the sanction is withheld, detailed reasons may be recorded in writing and duly communicated to the investigating agency.The committee has also suggested the review of the present cadre and recruitment procedure of the CBI to ensure high morale of personnel manning such an agency. The committee felt that the substantive and procedural aspects of defining crimes and trials thereunder are vested in the concurrent jurisdiction of both the centre and the states. The present state leads to a wide scope of unwarranted and unnecessary political interference right from the appointment of officials to the making of submission of charges, it said.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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