‘The CBI would have information on corruption in the ministry,and likewise the ministry on the CBI. It’s a classic case for mutual blackmail’

Noted Supreme Court lawyer and Aam Aadmi Party council member Prashant Bhushan remains sceptical of the CBI’s independent functioning under the new government. Excerpts from the interview

Sadiq Naqvi New Delhi 

What can be done about these recent reports claiming that fixers mixed  with the CBI top bosses, and that cases like 2G or even the Gujarat cases may have been compromised?

The reports are indeed disturbing, as they clearly show that various CBI directors, including the present one, appear to be involved with various dubious middlemen. It does point to considerable corruption within the CBI, which is something everybody has suspected for a long time. I myself deal with a large number of PILs or cases where the CBI’s track record has been atrocious. Quite apart from being amenable to political pressure, which they have shown in Mayawati’s, Mulayam Singh’s and many others’ cases, they also appear to be amenable to monetary inducements. Several cases that I have dealt with, including the Panna Mukhta case, seem to suggest that. It is apparent in the case of Moin Qureshi as well; the recorded conversations clearly show a nexus between Qureshi and successive CBI directors. 

Why is the government not making them (conversation transcripts) public? Why is the reluctance?

Apparently the government wants to investigate it through the Finance Ministry but the CBI wants to get possession of the evidence and investigate it by itself. But the agency can’t do it because its own Directors are involved; that would be a clear case of conflict of interest. This case calls for an SIT, but somebody will have to move the court for that, and that somebody would need to have access to some of this information, particularly the conversations which appear to have been recorded. 

Do you think the SIT formed for black money could investigate this fact as well? Although officers in the Finance Ministry wonder, if there are no proper investigative officers in the SIT, what can it be expected to do?

The SIT can take the help of whatever investigating agency they want, so they can call an investigation to do that. SIT has ex-officials, various senior officials of various agencies, they can certainly use any of these agencies.

But particularly in the Moin Qureshi case, there seems to be a tug of war going on between the CBI, the Finance Ministry and the income tax department. How does one deal with this sort of situation where you have the CBI wanting to investigate, as does the Finance Ministry, but then there are scams where the CBI and income tax officials have been found hand-in-glove.

Unfortunately, there is so much corruption around that sometimes these kinds of instances become instances of mutual blackmail. That’s probably what is happening between the CBI and maybe the income tax department, or even parts of the Finance Ministry. The CBI would definitely have information on corruption in the ministry, and likewise the ministry on the CBI. It’s a classic case for mutual blackmail to
take place. 

Do you think there has been any progress since last year when the Supreme Court called the CBI  a
caged parrot?

The Supreme Court’s reaction was in the context of the government pressuring the CBI. 

That’s what I am asking.

Well, it’s still pretty much the same, because ultimately when the government holds the strings for the transfers, postings, promotions of CBI officers and disciplinary action, by and large, these officers would be amenable to government pressure, especially when you have a CBI Director who is not particularly known for his integrity. 

So how does one solve the problem of pressured CBI?

See, we have said that you set up an independent Lokpal, which will be really independent. The government’s Lokpal that they’re proposing to appoint will not be independent because of various reasons. The appointments are largely controlled by the government or by the political classes; they are not obliged to be fully transparent about their functioning, then their removal is also to some extent controlled by the government. In our Jan Lokpal bill we had tried to set up a totally independent Lokpal and place the CBI under the administrative control of this Lokpal rather than keeping it under the administrative control of the government as is at present the case. Then maybe the CBI can be freed of government control. 

But, as we saw with the controversy over the appointment of the Additional Director of the CBI — where the CBI chief was opposed to the selection of RK Pachnanda for the post — don’t you think having an independent status will create more such situations?

No, we have said that just the administrative control over the CBI, which is exercised by the government at present, should be exercised by the Lokpal. The Lokpal will be a multi-member body unlike the CBI Director — if you give all powers to the CBI Director and if he or she happens to be an undesirable person, as has often been the case, that’s the dangerous situation. But if you have a multi-member Lokpal appointed in a transparent manner and obliged by law to function transparently, and they have administrative control over the CBI, that should be alright. 

You have said that the Central Vigilance Commission is not doing the job properly.

The CVC is largely appointed by the government. Its financial control is with the government, it doesn’t have enough to set up an investigation department. The CVC has a small staff, and it’s not in a position to even oversee the investigation by the CBI. Also, it is not allowed to interfere with any investigations. The weakness has been built into the CVC.

So you’re saying that these high- profile cases, especially 2G, coal allocation and some others, have been compromised by the CBI.

It certainly appears to be the case. 

Could you pinpoint other cases?

The two cases Anil Ambani was deliberately let off for, when all evidence pointed to the whole thing being masterminded by Anil Ambani. They’ve not even bothered to investigate the information that came about $750 million having been laundered and routed to Anil Ambani’s companies from Singapore. They didn’t take cognisance of that because it clearly appears to be part of the 2G money which came to Anil Ambani. 

And Gujarat?

In the Ishrat Jahan case, the CBI had adequate evidence to chargesheet Amit Shah but for reasons best known to the CBI Director, he did not do so.

What about the IB officers?

The CBI said that they are all clearly involved, there is more than adequate evidence against them but now with this BJP government, it’ll be difficult. I don’t think they are going to easily give sanctions for prosecutions. 

We recently saw that many of these cases were being monitored by the Supreme Court. Do you feel the Supreme Court monitoring is inadequate?

SC monitoring would be effective only if they are assisted by some people who have access to records and can see whether the investigations have been properly done or not. That is why they are now thinking of appointing a special prosecutor who can go through the records and at least tell the trial court whether further investigation is required. 

Recently, as we saw in the coal block allocation, the CBI had filed closure reports but the CVC did not agree and asked for the case to be reopened. Do you think action should be taken against any of these CBI officers for filing closure reports?

Not necessarily, one will have to see, but it is clear that the CBI is often not doing what they ought to be doing and that they are deflected by extraneous considerations. But at what level and which officers are involved, that will need to be investigated. In some of these cases, it’s being done at the level of the CBI Director, or Joint Director. 

So you think a Special Prosecutor will be a good idea?

Yes. 

Why do you think the anti-corruption movement appears to have dissipated?

It hasn’t dissipated. Most of the people who were involved in the anti-corruption movement decided to form the Aam Aadmi Party. AAP is taking up many of these issues as much as it can but it’s also fighting elections etc., so some of the energy and focus seems to be diverted towards fighting elections. 

So, contesting the elections was a good idea?

Well, I think it was a good idea even though it led to an inadequate system of selecting candidates etc. But as a result there was a rapid expansion of the party in other states. That has spawned problems of its own, like infighting. We are now trying to rectify that.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2014