In the hot seat

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He takes over the central bureau of investigation at a time when its stock is low. can the new chief restore its credibility and image?

By Vishwas Kumar


New CBI head Anil Kumar Sinha, who was earlier special director at the country’s foremost investigating police agency, steps into the shoes of Ranjit Sinha, who retired in the wake of controversy. What tilted the scales in his favor? It was Chief Justice of India (CJI) HL Dattu who said that there should be continuity in the probe of the highly-sensitive 2G and Coalgate scams. This was endorsed by Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Finally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, agreed with their recommendations.

Sinha is the CBI’s first director to be appointed under the newly created Lokayukta Act. It says the director should be appointed by a three-member collegium, comprising of the CJI, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and the prime minister. The act also provides that the collegium should consider at least two members from the shortlisted candidates, which it did. The other contender was Sharad Kumar, chief of the National Inves-tigation Agency.

Continuity in the anti-corruption probe was there, too. Sinha has been with the CBI for one-and-a-half years and as its senior-most official was acquainted with all the important cases handled by it. Sinha is a 1979 batch IPS officer and was picked for the coveted post from a list of 40 IPS officials, which included 12 from the 1977 and 1978 batch.

NO MODI PUSH

According to a senior home ministry official, Modi didn’t want any controversy in the director’s selection and so didn’t push for any official who had worked with him when he was Gujarat CM. He wanted to send a message to the bureaucracy that merit would be the criteria and not mere seniority. Secondly, he wanted to adopt a “consensus” model in picking the CBI chief. Thirdly, he did not want to bring any “favorites” as the CBI is presently investigating several politically sensitive cases involving opposition parties. Fourthly, BJP chief and close colleague Amit Shah is being probed by the agency.

Moreover, Sinha’s bio-data was weighty enough for him to be considered, as he had extensive experience in anti-corruption and vi-gilance, both at the center and state levels. Before joining the CBI in April last year, he was with the Central Vigilance Comm-ission as additional secretary, looking after public sector banks, public sector enterprises, ministries and policy matters.
From 2005-2010, he was in Bihar, posted first as additional director-general (law and order), where he raised a specialized force called the Special Auxiliary Police, comprising of retired army personnel to deal with Maoists. He also served as additional DG and head of the Vigilance Investigation Bureau.

(From left) Continuity of sensitive scams in CBI was the reason why Chief Justice of India HL Dattu preferred Sinha; Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha also endorsed Sinha’s selection; Earlier CBI chief Ranjit Sinha had an inglorious exit

 

 

 

 

 

Known for his innovative ideas, it was Sinha’s brainchild to set up a fast-track court for speedy trial of corrupt government officials and amend anti-corruption laws to confiscate their ill-gotten properties during pendency of trial. He also hit upon the idea of extensively using the Arms Act to seize illegal weapons and proactively prosecute those found with it. All these helped in restoring law and order in Bihar during Nitish Kumar’s first stint as CM. During his first stint on central deputation from 1998 to 2005, Sinha worked with the elite Special Protection Group, which protected prime ministers and held the positions of DIG and thereafter, IG.
But heading the CBI is, by far, his most challenging job, especially when its image has been hit by controversies involving Ranjit Sinha. The Supreme Court even took the unprecedented step of asking him to step aside from the 2G probe as there was an allegation of him trying to “sabotage” it. Earlier too, the apex court had termed the CBI a “caged parrot” for always siding with the government.

VULNERABLE POSITION

With the apex court monitoring the probe of 2G and Coalgate, the CBI director’s position had become vulnerable. Though the agency and its director technically remain “independent” of the central government, that is not so, as it is dependent on it for funds, personnel, infrastructure, etc. The CBI director had to invariably maintain a balance between its prescribed mandate and the government in power which wants him to toe its diktat. This contradiction was obvious when the CBI pro-bed various corruption scandals that rocked UPA I and UPA II.

However, with the change of government at the center, Sinha will not face as many pulls and pressures as his predecessors did. His priority is to restore the agency’s credibility and image. Soon after he took over on December 2, Sinha said: “I accept the responsibility to head the premier investigation agency with deep humility. I am aware of the challenges facing the CBI and would endeavor to work with my team to strengthen the cause of justice and reiterate our commitment to the values enshrined in the motto of the organization—industry, impartiality and integrity. I seek the cooperation of all in the discharge of my responsibilities.” Sinha, incidentally, is the third CBI director from Bihar after AP Singh and Ranjit Sinha. He also belongs to the Bihar cadre. While both left behind a controversial legacy, it is hoped the new incumbent will leave the agency on a clean slate.

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