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Interview With Shantonu Sen

Interview With Shantonu Sen

Govt failed to follow the past method of dealing with corrupt officers: Shantonu Sen

The Central Bureau of Investigation is in the centre of controversy due to feud between two top officials of the premier investigating agency. The infighting gets murkier. It has created a dent on the image of CBI. What ails the premier investigating agency? How to restore the faith of public in the premier investigating agency and how to prevent investigating agency officials getting influenced?

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Central Bureau of Investigation’s former Joint Director Shantonu Sen to know the reasons for erosion of CBI as an institution. Sen said that it is an appropriate time to restore the glory of CBI by reviving the old system of having own cadre. He stressed that CBI needs a Director with CBI experience, not someone on deputation from police department.

Shantonu Sen had joined the agency as a DySP and retired as a JD in 1996. Sen, who was among the first batch of officers that was directly recruited, joined the organisation in 1963 and retired in 1996. His autobiography is entitled  CBI Insider Speak: Birlas to Sheila Dikshit . Sen has helped to solve several other cases like the Birla textile case, the Urea scam during the Narasimha Rao Government, the looting by terrorists of ₹7 crores from the Punjab National Bank branch in Ludhiana, the Krishnamurthy saga involving Harshad Mehta and the FERA Violation by an MP and his father during Rajiv Gandhi tenure. Sen later served as OSD to the Lt-Governor of Delhi, Tejinder Khanna, and still advises clients in complex cases.

IC:  The infighting is tarnishing the image of CBI? Your comments.

Shantonu Sen: Two top officials of the CBI have levelled serious allegations of corruption against each other and due to which it has caught media’s attention. There should be proper investigation of these allegations. The government has not handled the issue properly. CBI has been investigating corruption cases against its own officials. In the past, it has investigated but it has always repatriated officer on deputation against whom allegation of corruption were made.

Both CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Asthana are on deputation. The government should have sent them back to their respective states for investigation of charges levelled against them. I am afraid the government does not have institutional memory of the CBI and has not studied how the CBI has been functioning for the last 77 years. The government has failed to follow the past method of dealing with corrupt officers who come on deputation to CBI. 

IC: The CBI has always been accused of playing into hands of government at centre. Your views.

It is not true that the CBI has been involved in any controversy. There was brief intervention in CBI during emergency. There was some influence by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi after she returned to power in 1980. That was a brief aberration. Between 1950 to 1996-98, CBI was an excellent organization. Rajiv Gandhi government’s time was best time for CBI. The SC judges used to praise CBI for investigating matters in appropriate manner. People of India demanded CBI investigation. What happened in the last twenty years is different.

The then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had decided to have cadre of CBI through UPSC at par with IPS and IAS. There was a direct recruitment of detectives for CBI. Then there was a subordination selection board for other ranks. This continued uninterruptedly for ten years. After 2001, the government stopped recruiting deputy SPs. So the superior rank recruitment has ceased. After 16 years, somebody from the ranks has become a Joint Director.

IC:  Is misuse of CBI linked with political developments in India after 1998. For instance, the coalition era began and political parties, both big and small came together to form coalition governments at centre. What prompted ruling party to use CBI for political gain?

There has always been interference but one should know how to escape from such interference. A Director from the CBI will obey the law but when he comes from police department where he is taught to obey the politician, he will do so as CBI boss also.  After 1998, people of lower calibre and those who could be easily influenced were appointed as head of the agency.

IC: The allegations are that a Union Minister and NSA head Ajit Doval have influenced the investigation against Asthana.

The affidavit mentions this and it should be investigated.

IC:  CBI Director has alleged that Asthana, BJP leader Sushil Modi and PMO worked together to frame RJD leader Lalu Yadav.

This matter should be investigated.

IC: Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal governments have withdrawn general consent given to the CBI for conducting raids and investigations. Your comment.

State governments believe that CBI is a manipulative force to harass them. Legally these two states cannot stop. However, the onus lies on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve this dispute, both constitutionally and politically. He should convene a meeting of Chief Ministers to resolve this issue within the provisions of CBI Act. So this matter should be resolved at the government level. Otherwise, CBI will stop investigating in states. People of the country want CBI investigations. Politicians may fear CBI.

IC: Do you think that the CBI is being misused by the Modi government for political gain?

After 1998, all governments have misused CBI for their advantage. So it would be incorrect to blame the Modi government alone. There is a golden chance for PM Modi to resolve the crisis involving non BJP state governments’ withdrawal of general consent to CBI for investigations and conducting raids. The country needs CBI, premier investigating agency.

IC: What are your suggestions to restore the faith in CBI and improve its working?

CBI needs a Director with CBI experience. It needs to get back its detectives. People should be recruited through UPSC for superior ranks and convert them into detectives. CBI should go back and revisit how it became a great organization.

(Published on 26th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 48)