Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ranjit Sinha CBI Director Another VINIOD RAI

Is CBI director Ranjit Sinha becoming the new Vinod Rai? 

ET 25th August 2013

Is he turning out to be the next Vinod Rai for this government?" a cabinet minister of the UPA government thundered when ET Magazine told him that CBI director Ranjit Sinha had claimed the episode of themissing files on coal allocations from the ministry "was fishy", would hamper the probe into the coal scam cases.

The cabinet minister may have been only half-serious with this comparison; after all, the former Comptroller and Auditor General of India's (CAG's) explosive reports on coal allocation, 2G spectrum allocation and theCommonwealth Games are unmatchable for their pugnacity. Still, the common ground that Sinha and Rai have walked on is their ability to generate their share of controversy, for different reasons; and their ability to tick off the ruling government, albeit in differing doses.

When Sinha, the senior-most IPS officer in service currently, was appointed CBI director last November, opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley objected, saying the selection should have been by a collegium proposed in Lokpal legislation rather than by government.

Others thought him to be too close for comfort to Lalu Prasad Yadav, although many in government were also sympathetic to Sinha given that he had been at the receiving end ofMamata Banerjee during whose tenure as railway minister he was shunted out as Railway Protection Force (RPF) head.

Less than a year into the chair, Sinha, rumoured to have the backing of Congress leader and Gandhi family confidant Ahmed Patel, is ironically raising fears that he's gearing up to become the next Vinod Rai for this government. On the Wrong Side When ET Magazine met Sinha at his North Block office on Thursday, he was quick to rubbish the Rai comparison.

"I am no constitutional authority like Vinod Rai, nor do I wish to take on the government. I'm a part of the government and wish to be so. I just want more functional autonomy as the apex court rightly called the CBI a caged parrot," says Sinha, even as his attention oscillated between our interaction and a TV screen flashing images of Parliament proceedings being disrupted due to the missing coal-scam files.

Not everyone is convinced by Sinha's contention. Observers point to two CBI actions that could lead up to the conclusion that Sinha has taken positions against the UPA government, or at least embarrassed it: one, in the railway posting scam the CBI had alleged that Union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla had demanded Rs 10 crore from the then Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar for an appointment. Result? Bansal lost his job.

Similarly, law minister Ashwani Kumar had to resign for alleged interference in the coal allocation scandal. So how did the CBI director get into such positions? "Well, it has just been a turn of fate," Sinha says, with a wry smile.

A close confidant of Sinha who did not want to be named points out that the CBI was only enquiring into certain suspicious railway postings when the Kumar posting accidentally landed at Bansal's door; he adds that Bansal got a clean chit ultimately as Sinha ruled that just for the sake of pleasing the BJP or the media, the CBI would not charge the former railway minister in absence of proof.

As for the law minister, the confidant says, Kumar himself invited trouble by summoning Sinha to his office with the coal-scam status reports meant for the apex court. Sinha apparently consulted a couple of private lawyers and the advice was straightforward: either save Kumar and the government or save yourself from the SC's wrath by speaking the hard truth.

"It was a simple choice," his close aide reveals. That one act by Sinha made him unpopular in the government but raised his respect enormously inside the CBI.

The Litmus Test

That said, August 29 could now be the make-or-break date for Sinha's relations with the UPA government for more than one reason. On this day, the SC will open the status report of the CBI in the missing coal block allocation files issue. If that's not enough, the SC on the same day will also hear the CBI's case for its functional autonomy.

The CBI has submitted a strong rejoinder to the government's view that having an all-powerful CBI director with ex-officio status of secretary could lead to him misusing his powers. A CBI counter document prepared under Sinha's close supervision now asks if the over 150 bureaucrats working as secretaries to government currently are all powerful and without checks and balances! A senior Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) official said Sinha had come across poorly in the matter.

"From a longer tenure, to power to directly induct SPs, to ex-officio status of secretary, the CBI case is for the director, by the director and of the director," alleges the DoPT official.

Sinha counters that he feels strongly about the issue but denies a personal interest in demanding a longer tenure or more powers. "I will demit office in another year. No legislation on CBI will fructify by then. What I am asking is for the CBI's future," he says. Observers say Sinha's Vinod Rai test will come up in a fortnight when the CBI files a supplementary charge sheet in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case.

As a CBI official asks: "If the CBI charge-sheets IB officers but does not indict [Amit] Shah or [Narendra] Modi, will everyone be convinced that the CBI was not acting on political directions?"

The CBI director won’t be able to hold a candle to the former CAG’s explosive reports but he’s doing his bit to tick off the government.

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