Repeatedly, it has been found to fall short of going for the kill, and unable to get convictions in big-bang cases.
All these cases show the flavour of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s recent conquests. Which would lead one to presume that the nation’s premier probe agency has become a drain inspector, at best. After recent setbacks, most notably in the Aircel-Maxis case involving the Maran brothers, the sensational rejection of the four persons inside the house, no breakage, no forced entry assumption in the Aarushi murder case and of course a kick in the butt received from CBI trial court judge O.P. Saini in the 2G scam case, who raised Cain by saying that he had waited seven long years — day in and day out — for the CBI to come to him with the proper evidence, one wonders what ails the investigative agency? Why has it fallen off the cliff? Why have the wheels come off the bus so suddenly? Legal and oversight challenges to the tenure of two successive CBI directors — A.P. Singh and Ranjit Sinha — dogged by clouds of jiggery-pokery have not helped matters either. The “caged parrot” be damned, basic questions about probity, propriety and integrity have been raised without any answers forthcoming; the sheer intensity of the catechism remaining gruelling and enduring.
The final denouement came last week when the Supreme Court, which has so often given the impetus to lacklustre and lackadaisical probes by the CBI, began fulminating and questioning the agency — over the bank details of those who had visited the official residence of former CBI chief Ranjit Sinha who, according to the court, had prima facie scuttled the probe in the coal scam cases.
The CBI’s Special Investigation Team stated to the Supreme Court that these would be examined.
“Substantial progress has been made in the investigation and its scope has been widened,” R.S. Cheema, special public prosecutor, told the bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph. But the bench was not happy about the tardy pace of the probe. “You have given us 11 reports of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and 18 reports of the CBI. We must say the progress in the investigation has been slow. Even today, when we see the 18th report of the CBI, it says one case is pending,” the bench said. The court had, in January last year, constituted the SIT headed by the CBI director to look into the prima facie allegations against Ranjit Sinha of trying to influence the probe in the coal scam cases.
Complicating matters, during the hearing, Mr Cheema told the bench that visitors at the former CBI chief’s house were more than the number mentioned in the visitors’ diary maintained at his official residence, and that its probe was going on. All this obviously doesn’t augur too well with the coal scam probe, and its closure.
The pace at which the agency works, or rather drags the cases, raises suspicion. Is the agency then good enough to do the work outlined at the outset, which is to nail bribery cases involving junior flunkeys, or does it have the wherewithal and expertise to conduct full-throttle investigations into high-profile white collar crimes? That is the moot point. That it is skewed towards the drain inspector-type of investigations seems to be the order of the day. Repeatedly, it has been found to fall short of going for the kill, and unable to get convictions in big-bang cases. Does that come from the mindset of the personnel who man the agency? When it does, like in the Aarushi murder case, then a higher court trashes the order, as did the Allahabad high court. A gruesome double murder, a botched-up investigation, a protracted trial by media and a nine-year-long unanswered whodunit. The riveting case turned out to be a washout with the film Talvar asking searching questions and maybe even influencing the judgment too. In October last year, while overruling an earlier verdict in Aarushi’s murder (in 2008), the Allahabad high court scathingly likened the lower court judge to a “maths teacher” and a “film director trying to thrust coherence into scattered facts”. The judge who had declared the Talwar couple guilty in 2015 had “aberrated”, declared the high court ruling. “The learned trial judge cannot act like a maths teacher who is solving a mathematical question by analogy after taking a certain figure for granted... Like a film director, the trial judge has tried to thrust coherence amongst facts inalienably scattered here and there, but not giving any coherence to the idea as to what in fact happened,” the judgement observed sarcastically.
From the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” to a handmaiden of the current government — is that the remit of the premier probe agency? Will it remain an instrumentality to rein in political opponents? To its credit, the CBI seems to be doing a terrific job with bank fraud cases, going after the collusive cartels who looted Indian banks. But this too seems to have ended quietly. This writer has in the past highlighted the exemplary work being done by the bank frauds and securities cell of the agency.
Last week, there was some renewed hope in this regard when the CBI registered 22 cases against Punjab National Bank officials relating to fraud in bank loans processed by them on the basis of forged documents, causing a loss of Rs 80 crores to the bank.
While that was heartening, the journey from caged parrot to pusillanimous drain inspector has been a shocking tale of woe.