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Selective appointments at home raises suspicion on CBI chief’s meetings

Ever since the names of people who met Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Ranjit Sinha at his home office in the past several months have come out, the top sleuth has gone all out to say he has done no wrong and nobody can stop him from meeting people.

In one of his defiant statements, he said: “You have to often catch a thief through a thief,” implying that he’s been getting information from his visitors, and that this has enabled CBI to crack many cases.

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That may be partly correct, but Sinha’s argument seems to be faulty, according to experts. While technically the CBI chief can hold meetings at his residential office, it is the kind of people who are listed in the visitors’ logbooks as well as the frequency of their visits that is raising questions. “The core point is whether the meetings are furthering the cause of justice or not. The role of an investigator is nothing but that,” said a former CBI director.

The visitors’ diary, or diaries, are believed to be filled with controversial names, including those of industrialists, company executives and politicians with links to the 2G telecom scam and coalgate. The fact that Sinha, who’s heading the probe on both 2G and coal case that shook the nation, met these people at his residential complex (even if it is at the home office), at times late in the night perhaps without any written record of the interactions, is a clear indicator of things gone amiss, according to a civil servant.   

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The questions that are being asked by top government officials are, why could not these same set of people meet the CBI chief at his office? What were the constraints in organising meetings at his spacious office in the CGO Complex, New Delhi? Was it the convenience of the visitors or the CBI chief himself that was kept in mind while allowing meetings at his residence? Just to put things in perspective, Sinha’s residence at 2, Janpath, is less than 5 km away from the CBI headquarters at the CGO complex, and in normal traffic the two destinations are apart by 10 minutes when travelling by car. There may not be a ready answer to those questions at this point, but a top bureaucrat pointed out that a residential office is sanctioned to top officials including the CBI chief for working at home beyond office hours and giving dictations to personal staff.

“But, such meetings with industrialists and company executives, who are linked to cases under investigation, are against any norm and, therefore, raise suspicion,” he added.

Former CBI chief Vijay Shankar told Business Standard that keeping a residential office is the director’s prerogative. “But, in case people involved in the investigation were given appointment at residential office, was it to each and everyone who sought it depending on the time available to him, or was it given to a particular kind of people?” he asked. “From what has come out in the media, the practice of giving appointment to persons under investigation, that too repeatedly, is highly suspicious,” said Shankar, who held the position of CBI director for three years.

Another former director of CBI, who did not want to be named, said: “I never met anybody at my home office other than personal staff who facilitated work.”

With just about two months to go before his term ends, will the government take any step to intervene? The buzz is that there may be a change in the rulebook that could actually end the CBI chief’s term before the due time. Sinha has said that he will not resign, and is planning a perjury case against Prashant Bhushan, the petitioner who brought the visitors’ log book to the court. However, what view the Supreme Court takes on Monday on the matter might hold the key. Sinha had not so long ago agreed with the Supreme Court that the agency was indeed a “caged parrot”. The current controversy raises the question of how much of a caged parrot the CBI actually is, and what can be done to change the complexion of the premier investigative agency.

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