Mayawati asset case ‘Investigation is complete’

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

While giving a clean chit to the UPA government for no scam or scandal, as his three-year term comes to an end, CBI Director Vijay Shankar talks to Hardnews on rampant corruption in PDS, poverty alleviation programmes, defence deals, Nithari, kidney racket, Dawood Ibrahim and Rajiv Gandhi's assassination

CBI was granted functional autonomy by the Supreme Court after the hawala judgment. During your term in office, did you feel free or restrained by the government?

CBI has always enjoyed functional autonomy, even before the Vineet Narain judgment. The investigation of cases is conducted under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and other relevant laws whereby investigating officers and their superior officers are free to conduct the investigation without any interference. The result of the investigation is reported to the Competent Court under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code. As a sequel to the Vineet Narain case, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act, 2003, provides a fixed tenure for director, CBI, for two years, who is appointed on the recommendation of a committee headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). The CVC also exercises general superintendence over CBI for the Prevention of Corruption Act cases.

As for the role of the government in the context of CBI's functioning, the government has financial, administrative and legal powers such as budgetary provisions, to appeal in matters of acquittal. The government is accountable to Parliament and therefore appropriate exercise of power cannot be wished away. Considering the responsibilities and expectations from CBI, there is a need to empower CBI director further, for which appropriate action has been initiated.

There seems to be a manifest deficit of trust between CBI and the people on some key cases, as witnessed in the Nithari scandal. How do you account for that?

The Nithari case is under trial and thus sub-judice. It may, however, be said that it is not surprising that the media and the common man have various questions to ask. The cases are not only the most heinous but also unique in the history of crime. In this context, it would suffice to say that CBI investigation was conducted in the most transparent, objective and fair manner. As there are no eye witnesses, forensic scientists and other experts have contributed in a significant manner. CBI is here to assist the trial court for establishing the truth and enabling the process of law to punish those responsible. Sustaining the truth in challenging circumstances is always difficult.

Do you find it unusual that there are no witnesses left in the case? The last one apparently died under mysterious circumstances in Kolkata. Do you think CBI's witness-protection programme is inadequate?

It is not true that there are no witnesses left in the Nithari case. The cases have been investigated with highest professional standards and the truth shall prevail during the trial. Witness protection programme is a very complex issue. It is yet to take off in India.

What do you think of the involvement of the Nanda family in defence deals? Could you detail how these arms dealers are subverting the defence procurement process? Did you find any evidence of the defence ministry procuring substandard weapon systems due to the presence of middlemen?

CBI is currently investigating defence procurement cases in some of which the role of middlemen has emerged very clearly. Our investigations have disclosed that middlemen use money power to influence persons involved in sensitive decision-making processes of defence procurements.

Decisions taken for procurement of defence equipment for the armed forces have long-term implications for the country's security. Any outside influence that interferes with this process may lead to substandard equipment or good equipment being procured at exorbitant prices. At present, CBI investigations are in progress.

Do the dealers act in isolation or are they backed by the countries that are pushing the sale? Was the cancelling of the Eurocopter deal an outcome of middlemen's shenanigans or was it due to the pressure exerted by France and other countries that are behind EADS - the aviation company?

We have no evidence at present to indicate undue influence by any country in defence deals. A firm conclusion in these matters could be arrived at only after investigations are concluded. CBI shall advise the government, if required.

Another issue that came up recently was sale of kidneys by doctors. How serious is this? Did the culprits enjoy support and immunity from the police-bureaucrat-politician nexus?

Sale of kidneys is a serious issue, as evident from legislation of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. In case investigations indicate any such nefarious nexus, the law shall take its course.

There remains a view that CBI is reluctant to take cases against politicians to their logical conclusion, such as with Laloo Prasad Yadav, Jayalalitha and Mayawati. Is CBI reluctant to act?

It is not correct to say that CBI is reluctant to follow up cases against politicians. Given the criminal justice system as it is, a few cases may drag on due to factors that are not within CBI's control. As an investigating and prosecuting agency, CBI can only register and investigate cases impartially and chargesheet the accused. Once the chargesheet is in court, the accused do utilise all possible means to delay trial.

It is also not correct to say that CBI is reluctant to act against important persons. As per existing provisions of the CrPC (Section 378), the decision to file an appeal against a judgment or otherwise rests with the government. Therefore, CBI can only submit its recommendation to the government for taking decision in the matter as per provisions of the law. Huge pendency of cases in various courts and the long time taken to dispose of trials by the courts is worrisome and needs urgent attention. Permission required to initiate an enquiry against an officer of the rank of joint secretary and above and mandated sanction required to launch prosecution are also issues. CBI alone cannot be held accountable for corruption in higher echelons - be it in political or bureaucratic authorities.

What is the status of the case of Mayawati's disproportionate assets?

Investigation is complete. The evidence collected has been examined. In the meantime, a writ petition has been filed before the apex court, which has issued notices to the government and CBI.

What about fake currency in the country? The Reserve Bank of India thinks it is not as big a matter as it is made out to be. What is the truth?

The circulation of fake Indian currency notes is definitely a matter of concern. In fact, in 2007, the seizure crossed the face value of Rs 10 crore. CBI is a nodal agency for checking the menace. Recently, CBI organised a workshop in which nodal officers from several states and Union territories and representatives of several central government organisations participated. During this workshop, several issues pertaining to the circulation of fake currency were discussed.

A major area of concern is the pumping of good quality, high denomination counterfeit notes from across the border. The enforcement agencies have to focus on developing wider intelligence networks to check the smuggling and efforts should be made to develop indigenous technology to make counterfeiting difficult.

Do you think CBI needs urgent reforms such as turning it into a federal agency like in the US?

CBI works within the ambit of powers vested under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE Act), 1946. As CBI's jurisdiction is extended to states only with the consent of the respective states under Section 6 of the Act, this does put limitations, especially in cases where investigations are entrusted by state governments and the constitutional courts after considerable lapse of time. At times, a need is felt, especially in relation to cases of internal security or economic offences when criminals operate from across nations: CBI should have suo moto powers to take over investigation. But such a dispensation would have to be achieved within the framework of existing laws and the Constitution.

What about its personnel? Are they equipped to handle modern-day crimes?

Human resource is one of the critical problem areas for CBI. In most modern-day crimes, criminals often use technology to outsmart investigation agencies. Realising this need, CBI has started extensive training programmes in upgrading the skills of investigating officers and training them in the use of technology. Plans are afoot to introduce latest gadgets and equipment that would help investigating officers discharge their duties in a more efficient manner.

Dawood Ibrahim, accused in the Mumbai blasts, remains free. Where is he and what is the government doing about his extradition?

Dawood Ibrahim and many absconding criminals and terrorists have continued to get shelter in Pakistan. The government of India and CBI have been making all possible efforts through diplomatic channels and Interpol to get hold of them. The international community and the UN have taken action in the context of Dawood. Interpol has issued a red corner notice. All these efforts have not succeeded so far. I believe efforts at a bilateral level should continue. I am sure the law will catch up with the absconders.

In the last four years of UPA rule, there has been no major corruption scandal. Is it because corruption has become a part of liberalised India and does not raise the hackles of anyone or are governments getting cleaner?

Corruption is a serious issue in national life. There is an impression that corruption at individual level is widespread even in senior levels in the government. Here it is pertinent to note that no scam or scandal has come to the surface at the central government level in recent years. However, shoddy progress and corruption in various projects and services such as the public distribution system (pds), health, education and poverty alleviation programmes disturbing. Most of these programmes are implemented by the states where corruption is rampant. In many cases, the very policy and architecture of the programmes leads to corruption at implementation level.

The monitoring agency (MDMA) created to follow up on the leads provided by the Jain Commission probing the wider conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination has come under criticism for making little progress. What's happening in the MDMA?

The MDMA was established by the government after the Action Taken Report on the Justice Jain Commission was tabled in Parliament in 1998. Matters referred to MDMA concerned larger conspiracy, if any. For this the MDMA has carried out its investigation in a satisfactory manner. A large number of issues remain pending due to the incompatibility of laws of different countries, especially when it pertains to the provision of death penalty. Such difficulties have been removed through protracted diplomatic efforts.