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Institutional failures

There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Ranjit Sinha. On Monday, the apex court commissioned a Special Investigation Team (SIT), led by former special CBI director ML Sharma to initiate a probe against Sinha in what has come to known as the “Diary-gate” case. Sinha’s fate in the matter was sealed last year after the visitors’ diary at his residence revealed that he met two top Reliance ADAG officials nearly 50 times, despite corruption charges pending against the company in the 2G scam. It was also being charged that these visits coincided with Sinha’s alleged attempt to file an affidavit which sought to “defuse” the charges against the company. 

In a petition filed before the apex court, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation alleged that the visitors’ entry register at the former CBI director’s had cast serious aspersions on his ability to fairly investigate the 2G spectrum allocation case against Reliance Telecom, which it found to be “very disturbing”. Besides Reliance, there were allegations that he met several politicians and influential people against whom CBI had registered a probe. Consequently, Sinha was taken off the 2G spectrum allocation case after the court took cognisance of his alleged improprieties. He was also accused of scuttling the probe in the coal scam. Earlier, the apex court had expressed annoyance with Sinha for meeting with several accused in the coal scam at his official residence in the absence of investigating officers. While going through the case, the court felt that further inquiry was necessary to ascertain the fairness and impact of his conduct in the coal scam probe. 

A Supreme Court bench, therefore, had sought the Chief Vigilance Commissioner’s assistance to ascertain the technique and methodology used for conducting such an inquiry on whether Sinha’s meetings had unduly favoured the accused or not.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time Sinha has been accused of such improprieties. The 1974-batch cadre IPS officer was shifted out of investigations in the fodder scam way back in 1996, when he was accused by his own colleague, UN Biswas, of scuttling investigations ostensibly to save Lalu Yadav and other powerful individuals involved. The apex court decision, which came just before his retirement from active service, has posed a huge question mark about Sinha’s entire tenure. The media remembers his stint as one where the apex court ended up describing the CBI as a “caged parrot”. 

However, the truth is that it became a “caged parrot” perhaps because Sinha wanted it to behave like one. One look at the spate of high profile cases handled by Sinha and their eventual outcomes present a rather disturbing picture of how a leading investigative agency crawled under pressure from ministers from the erstwhile central government and large private corporations, when asked to bend. Such institutional failures, seemingly orchestrated by the likes of Sinha, present a rather bleak picture of the CBI’s lack of autonomy from political influence and large private corporations. The government must now take measures to reform the CBI, establish its independence and make the agency accountable to Parliament. For the time being, however, the apex court is ascertaining the degree to which such institutional failures have occurred. This is a step in the right direction.
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