Quest for the truth
Investigation of crime is a quest for truth and to bring the perpetrators to book.
The supplementary charge-sheet filed against Chidambaram, his son and others in the 2006 Aircel-Maxis fraud case after the trial court discharged the Marans and others a year ago; the muted silence in the grossly under-reported recent convictions in the Urea Scam of 1996 wherein former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao's son, his Principal Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary were not charged; the stalling of investigations by the present central government in the Krishna-Godavari-Basin gas deal that involved Mukesh Ambani and other prominent persons – and many such unresolved cases propel our minds to the important question of the quest for truth by the CBI or the Anti Corruption Branches of the state governments.
Investigation of crime is nothing but a quest for truth – the absolute truth, in order to get the perpetrator punished by the court. Be it the Rs 64 crore Bofors Scam or the Rs 133 crore Urea Scam, be it the Rs 945 crore Animal Husbandry Scam or the Rs 3500 crore Aircel-Maxis Deal, or the Rs 50,000 crore KG Basin gas deal fraud, or for that matter any serious crime – an investigator is expected to reach to the bottom of it, especially when s/he belongs to a professional agency like the CBI, or even a smaller outfit of the Anti Corruption Branch of a state. Unlike judicial justice, wherein there are instances of the trial court sentencing the death penalty to the accused by treating the crime of a gruesome murder as rarest of rare cases, the High Court acquitting him and, finally, the case ending up with life sentence in the Supreme Court, thus proving that there is no absolute justice – for the investigator, absolute truth has no alternatives. Therefore, every professional investigator normally endeavours to collect all the evidence in the task at hand.
Yet, we come across several cases in which the results of an investigation puzzle our minds. The ominous act of filing the supplementary charge-sheet in the Aircel-Maxis case against Chidambaram and 17 others by the CBI, implies that either the earlier investigations were botched up and the agency ignored the evidence against important people due to political pressure from the then UPA government, or that the present set of officers have manipulated the evidence to please the whims of the erstwhile NDA government. If this line of thought has no fault lines, it can be safely said that the CBI had acted under political pressure earlier or is acting under such pressure now. Similarly, stopping of investigations in the KG Basin case by the Anti Corruption Branch of Delhi displays the vulnerability of such state agencies to political maneuverability. As a result, doubting Thomases have a field day asking whether the CBI or Anti Corruption Branches are really working as professional agencies to bring out the absolute truth, questioning whether they have the required impeccable integrity, and castigating them while also unfairly painting the investigating officers with the same brush, without taking into account their actual predicament.
In reality, when an officer, who is honest, dedicated, intelligent, professionally impartial and conscientious, does everything possible to reach the absolute truth, he also suffers for all the wrong-doings or silence of the bosses. He is hurt; anguished with the fate of the case, for all his good work being dumped, for being bullied into submission to accept the decisions of the politically-pliable bosses, and for being treated as recalcitrant if he stands up against those diktats. He is tormented by guilt, pain and impotent anger for his final product of investigation being whitewashed with politically-acceptable paint. And, with his professional pride deeply hurt, these feelings haunt him for ages, even after he retires from service – for the entire struggle he had undergone in his mission – in the quest for reaching the absolute truth. The story of the Urea Scam, among many others, candidly written by Shantonu Sen, a former Joint Director of CBI, in his book, 'CBI...insider speaks', gives us an insight into the feelings of such officers in the CBI, ACB, and elsewhere.
Sen writes that in the Urea Scam that had surfaced in the last days of the Narasimha Rao government, around October 1995, at least three senior members of the dramatis personae had managed to elude trial – Prabhakara Rao, son of former PM Narasimha Rao, Surendra Singh, Cabinet Secretary, the man who chaired the group of Secretaries that decided National Fertiliser Limited would be an additional canalising agency to purchase urea from the international market and the late AN Varma, the Principal Secretary to the PM, who in all intents and purposes was supporting the entry of National Fertilisers Limited – that saw itself fall into the trap of doing business with Karson Danismanlik Turizm Sanayi Ticaret Ltd of Turkey and ended up as a victim of a Rs 133 crore fraud, a whopping double that of the Bofors scam. Being in the know of the entire nuances of the case as a consultant of NFL, after his retirement from his long service in the CBI, he has emphasised the fact that their role in inducting NFL into urea import business deserved a legal scrutiny that did not happen. Surprisingly, the advance money of Rs 133 crore was deposited by NFL into the Swiss account of the hitherto unknown fly-by-night Turkish Company, which did not have any exposure or expertise in this field since Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation was handling all such matters earlier.
When the comprehensively duped NFL made the complaint to the CBI, the then Director, Vijaya Rama Rao, who was Narasimha Rao's appointee, played the role of Man Friday for saving Prabhakara Rao, and other big-wigs, even though the facts on record indicated that Sanjeeva Rao was related to Prabhakara Rao, and Sambasiva Rao was closely connected to Sanjeeva Rao; and, NFL received not a kilo of urea against the advance of $38 million paid to the Karsons.
Furthermore, the Parliamentary Committee on Chemicals and Petroleum, headed by AR Antulay, examined the matter and although no report was submitted, through inside sources, TOI reported on Sept 11, 1996: "Ex-Cabinet Secretary (Mr. Surendra Singh) is responsible for the urea scam." Subsequently, The Statesman of May 30, 1997 reported: "While the top leadership of political parties burn the midnight oil to come up with a solution, some senior bureaucrats are engaged in frantic efforts to scuttle a probe into the Rs 133 urea scam, which allegedly involves persons close to former PM PV Narasimha Rao and his mentor Chandraswamy.....Proceedings have been initiated against several NFL officials but little effort had gone towards pinpointing the masterminds behind the deal....NFL was persuaded to clinch the deal in a record time of about two weeks." Then, the investigations revealed that the Karsons did pay back in part, ie, $4 million, routing back through two Hyderabad businessmen, who were associated with a Dubai firm, Edible Foodstuffs, to the bank accounts of Prabhakara Rao, Sanjeeva Rao, and Sambasiva Rao. Additionally, a sum of $2000 was sent to Rhea Brothers in New York, a firm owned by Prakash Yadav, son of the Fertilisers Minister, Ram Lakhan Yadav.
In spite of all this, the charge-sheet filed in December 1997 was silent about Prabhakara Rao, Surendra Singh and AN Varma, thus showing that even the successors followed the same line of Vijaya Rama Rao. So much so for the stranglehold of the politicians in power on the investigating agencies!
Now, nearly 22 years after the CBI had registered the case, a special CBI court in Delhi has sentenced B Sanjeeva Rao, two Turkish nationals, Tuncay Alankus and Cihan Karanchi, CK Ramakrishnan (former CMD of National Fertiliser Ltd), DS Kanwar (former Executive Director – marketing – NFL), M Sambasiva Rao, Prakash Chand Yadav, and others with differing punishments of rigorous imprisonment up to six years and hefty fines up to Rs 100 crores. But, what about the kingpins?
Narasimha Rao was known as a Congressman with a khaki knicker inside for his closeness to BJP. Presuming that what BJP government has done with Chidambaram and 17 others in Aircel-Maxis, significantly, charge-sheets filed without obtaining the mandatory sanction for prosecution is correct on merits, will they also set the CBI machinery in motion on the quest for reaching the absolute truth in the urea scam and prosecute the ring-leaders? Also, presuming that the BJP government is impartial in handling corruption matters and its leaders have no nexus with the Ambanis, will they take up the investigations in the huge Rs 50,000 crore fraud in the Krishna-Godavari gas deal that involves the corporate giant Mukesh Ambani, which is presently stalled by the Anti Corruption Branch that has been usurped from the Kejriwal government and is now being controlled by the LG of Delhi?
Similarly, will the muffled media ever open up to speak against the abuse of the investigating agencies? People are wary that while every conviction of Lalu Yadav in the fodder scam cases hogs the limelight and the charge-sheet against Chidambaram and his son is widely reported, the omission of the big-shots in the list of convictions in the urea scam and the non-investigation of the Rs 50,000 crore KG Basin gas deal do not find any prominent place in the media.
Justice is not absolute; but, in matters of investigation it is a quest for truth – the absolute truth and there is no compromise; there is no second conclusion. Let us hope that, notwithstanding reports of bickering between the top brass of the CBI and ACB Delhi stalling the Ambani investigations till date, both will stand truly independent, impartial and professional, shedding their perceivably unprofessional image and partisan approach. Or, is that hope only a utopian dream and, like in the UPA days, will the organisations continue to submit to the political power that rules over them? Is nothing changing?
(The author is a retired IPS officer,
former Member, Public Grievances
Commission, Delhi, and former DIG, CBI. The views expressed are strictly personal)