Bhushan and Sinha: The battle over diaries

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan is a relentless fighter against corruption. He was instrumental in securing court monitoring of high-profile cases like the 2G scam and coal scam. This time, his sensational claim based on a visitor’s register at CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s official residence has ruffled many feathers. I spoke to Bhushan on the frequent meetings Sinha had with those linked with controversial cases.

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The CBI Director argues that he has to meet certain people to understand the other side of the story. How is it improper for a CBI chief to meet accused on a regular basis?

I can understand if somebody makes a complaint against an Investigating Officer (IO). You can hear that complaint. But for that, they have to give you something in writing. That meeting should not be in unofficial, clandestine manner. Such meetings can be once, twice but not 50 times. If he is meeting those people to hear their side of the story, normally he should call the IO. If they are complaining against IO, then he need not call the officer but he should meet accused at his office after officially recording it.

His argument is that he had met people but did not shower any favour.

Take the case of Reliance, he was trying to undo the chargesheet. He was trying to ensure that the petitions filed by accused would succeed. First, he prepared a counter affidavit conceding everything they were saying.

Sinha feels that there is somebody behind you.

Firstly, it is absurd. However, even assuming that there was somebody behind me, how does it reduce his own culpability? He has to explain why he was meeting all these accused persons. Whether there is somebody behind me or not is irrelevant. The Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and Common Cause, the petitioners in the cases, are multi-member bodies of very credible people. We get information from many people, from all kind of sources. If we feel the information is credible, reliable and it shows some serious wrongdoing, some serious corruption going on somewhere, then we use that information.

Questions have been raised on the veracity of the visitor’s register.

There may be two other diaries as claimed by Sinha. However, the point is the diary records the movement of guests or visitors to his house. It is recorded in so many details — names, car numbers, time in and time out. It is a very detailed document, handwritten by several people who were posted at the gates. It is impossible to fabricate this kind of a register.

Some entries are alleged to be fake.

If so, it should be investigated. It appears to be very unlikely because the diary is in sequence. The register is in 4-5 handwritings. The register is so detailed many of the car numbers have been verified. It is possible that in one or two cases, some car numbers have been mistakenly noted down. I find it exceedingly difficult t believe that they could be significant errors. If there mistakes, I do not think it will be significant.

CBI chief was very keen to know your source.

Naturally, he would be. He would like to know who the whistle blowers are but it is important that identity of such whistleblowers is protected.

What is the extent of damage done to the cases?

Great deal of damage has already been done by not charge sheeting several people. They delayed Aircel for very long time. They did not investigate some aspects. In the Coalgate they sought to close down many of the. A great deal of damage has been done. How much of it can be rectified, I cannot say.

Do you think CBI Director is still a caged parrot?

The Director is not a caged parrot. Government appoints a convenient person as Director. Such convenient Directors some times can also be corrupt. Director enjoys a security of tenure.  In that sense, government on its own cannot remove him. They have to consult CVC. So Director has been given considerable freedom. But the rest of the CBI, they are still under the administrative control of the government. The current problem is the Director. They appointed a convenient person whom they should have known is corrupt. Yet they appointed him, as he was convenient.

Has CBI lost its edge?

CBI has certainly lost a great deal of credibility over the years. Earlier, that was because of the politicisation of the agency or rather the willingness of the agency to bow down before its political masters. We have seen flip-flops by the CBI in cases of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. We have also seen CBI’s reluctant to seriously probe cases involving those in the then government like Bofors, Scorpene deal and even in the 2G case. What we are seeing now is an altogether different thing. It is outright corruption where the Director appears to be interfering in investigations. All this underline the need for bringing CBI under a strong Lokpal.

CBI needs to regain its credibility

Of course, they need to regain credibility. For that, you need to change the system of appointment. If you place it under a credible Lokpal, the one that we had proposed and not the government’s Lokpal, and you provide full transparency, then perhaps you can have proper CBI. The CBI has to be made accountable to Lokpal. Administrative control also should be with Lokpal and not with government.

(An edited version appeared in Panorama section of Deccan Herald on Sep 15, 2014)

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