Thursday, May 9, 2013

From Coalgate to Rail bribe: How Ranjit Sinha is redeeming the CBI

by May 8, 2013

After wasting Rs.250 crore of the tax payers’ money in pursuing the Bofors scam for 25 years and giving a clean chit to Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and others at the end of it, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is witnessing one of its best moments today.

If the Bofors case represents a classic example of how the CBI was manipulated by the Congress government into conducting a meaningless probe, the CBI’s incumbent director Ranjit Sinha has asserted himself spectacularly and exercised his independence even within the confines of the CBI as a government-controlled department.
In a matter of just a few weeks, Sinha’s bold decisions on three fronts are likely to prove momentous to the future of the CBI.
Not wanting to mislead the Supreme Court, the CBI director admitted before the court on 6 May that the Coalgate draft report was shared with Union law minister Ashwani Kumar, Attorney General GE Vanahvati, officials of the PMO and the coal ministry and that changes were made to the report following their suggestions. Sinha listed out the changes made by the various officials and the minister.
He also clarified that the previous affidavit filed by the former additional solicitor general Harin Raval that the status report was not shared with the government was made by Raval “on his own” without instructions from the CBI.
When asked by journalists on 30 April as to why he had shared the Coalgate draft status report with the government, the CBI chief gave an explanation that bared the urgency for providing greater autonomy to the CBI.
He admitted candidly that the CBI is part of the government and is not an autonomous body. “I have shown the report to the Law Minister and not to any outsider and we will address whatever situation arises out of this,” Sinha said.
With this, he acknowledged the point that was made forcefully during the Lokpal Movement led by Anna Hazare and others that the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) need autonomy to wage an effective war against corruption in the country.
During the peak of the Lokpal movement in December 2011, then Law Minister Salman Khurshid asserted: “We should respect the Vineet Narain judgment of the Supreme Court which ensured the CBI’s autonomy. We are working towards preserving that autonomy for the CBI. If someone feels that the CBI is not autonomous, he/ she can approach the Supreme Court.”
Khurshid’s assertion falls flat in the face of the Supreme Court’s recent observations following Sinha’s affidavit detailing how changes were made by the government to the CBI’s Coalagate draft report.
Taking serious note of what was happening, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice RM Lodha instructed the CBI on 30 April not to take instructions from “political masters” and said, “Our first exercise will be to liberate CBI from political interference.”
It was amidst all these Coalgate developments that had embarrassed the government, that the CBI hit the headlines once again with the Railgate scam. The needle of suspicion in this scam pointed straight at one of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s most trusted lieutenants, Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, projected till recently as a clean politician.
The task before the CBI is to complete its investigations and tell the nation the extent of Bansal’s complicity – or innocence- in this mega scam.
One would like to believe the CBI chief when he says that “the CBI will not spare anybody involved at any level in this case.”
Unlike another upright bureaucrat, Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, the CBI chief has not had a slanging bout with the government and has still managed to assert himself and act independently.
He does not have the constitutional autonomy of either the CAG or the Election Commission (EC), where the former chief election commissioner TN Seshan fought hard to transform the EC from a listless organisation to one which enforced the electoral Model Code of Conduct with a stick and did not hesitate to reprimand governments, politicians and bureaucrats for violations during assembly and general elections.
Sinha’s task is that much more difficult because he does not have the independence and the autonomy of the EC or the CAG. Now, however, no one apart from the Supreme Court is convinced that the CBI needs autonomy and insulation from political interference.
This is of paramount importance if the CBI is to emerge as one of the great, independent institutions in the country. Sinha, with his actions- the affidavit exposing government interference and the Railgate probe- has shown what is possible if the CBI is allowed to function freely.


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