A P Singh stepped down as director of the Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday, passing on the mantle to IPS officer Ranjit Sinha. In conversation with Ruchika Chitravanshi, Singh looks back at his achievements, hurdles and how the biggest case of the year, 2G spectrum scam, had the entire Delhi branch on its toes
As you prepare to hang up your boots, what are you looking forward to the most?
Golf. I should hit the golf course on Sunday [December 2]. The last two years have not given me any time for leisure activities. I will also visit my daughters who live in Boston and London. I won’t sit idle after retirement. But I cannot say what I would be doing just yet.
What has been your biggest achievement as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director?
It has to be Lok Pal. I had to ensure CBI wasn’t disturbed. It was a rough fight. The select committee’s view was favourable for us. Going by the initial plan, CBI’s anti-corruption bureau would have been taken away. In the Jan Lok Pal Bill, it had been suggested CBI’s anti-corruption wing should be merged with the Lok Pal, while in the government’s Lok Pal Bill, it was proposed the Lok Pal be given a separate agency which would, in effect, have meant CBI would no longer be involved in anti-corruption work. After all, we are an agency with an experience of 50 years. We have dealt with so many corruption cases. We have the faith of the Constitution. CBI needs to be given more powers; it has to be an autonomous institution. As far as our relationship with Lok Pal goes, it is an evolving one. It is akin to our relationship with the Central Vigilance Commission.
You had mentioned the 2G telecom spectrum scam was your biggest case. With so many complications and the Supreme Court’s watchful eye, did it take a toll on other investigations?
It did take a toll. The 2G case was a big one and the investigation is still underway. The trial, too, is going on at a quick pace because of the apex court’s mandate. CBI’s entire Delhi branch has been engaged in this case. In Delhi, CBI also has to look at corruption cases in the Delhi Development Authority and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. But in the last two years, no work has been done in these areas.
From 2G and coal to scams in the National Rural Health Mission, you have disturbed many influential people. Does this lead to pressure on CBI from political parties, etc?
People come to meet me or they call me. These people include industrialists and politicians. I have been open to listening to what they have to say. They talk about injustice, or claim someone is innocent. I pass on any information I feel would help the investigation process. But my officers are free to investigate. My job is to insulate the organisation and my officers. In the last two years, I have always stressed there is no interference in the functioning of CBI.
There have been instances of differences of opinion within CBI. For instance, in the Essar-Loop Telecom case and recently, in the case against former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh.
This is a healthy sign. All officers and departments are free to say and write what they want to. They are not working under any pressure. They do not have to agree with everything the director wants, simply because he is director. There have been occasions when an investigative officer, supervisory officers and director of prosecution have had different opinions on a particular matter. We have reported these in our files, too.
What are the biggest challenges CBI faces today?
There are many impediments. In the future, bigger scams might unfold. For those, we need to be better equipped. Now, we are 12 per cent short of the required staff strength. There is a need to double our staff. Many bank fraud cases are brought to us, but we have been refusing to take these up, simply because we don’t have the resources to look into these matters. We need a multi-disciplinary team. Though our officers were able to handle the 2G scam case very well, the economic offences we deal with need expert advice. We need to have chartered accountants, officials from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, experts on company law, etc.
Delay in securing the opinion of experts such as forensics expert is a concern. To overcome this, it has been proposed a state-of-the-art central forensic science laboratory be created.
CBI investigations have also been stuck because of letters rogatory (LRs). Have you tried to address these?
Delays in executing LRs and obtaining prosecution sanctions are functional constraints we face. LRs are a tedious process. We have suggested CBI post liaison officers abroad. A lot of countries have posted their officers in Delhi. As of now, we have secured approvals for the US, Dubai and London. This is a good step. Several cases relating to arms dealers and defence deals, which require comprehensive investigation and execution of LRs, are being probed by CBI.
In case a country doesn’t respond to your LR, what are your options? For instance, in the Aircel-Maxis case, you are still waiting for a response from Malaysia.
We are in touch with them and have replied to their queries. In a situation like that, we evaluate the evidence available and see what case can be made. In this particular case, we haven’t reached that situation yet, as dialogue is still on.
Questions have been raised on new CBI director Ranjit Sinha.
There is a well-defined procedure by the Supreme Court. Once you follow that mandate, it comes with certain authority. He is a very seasoned and experienced Indian Police Service officer, who has already headed two major police organisations. The proposal for selecting the CBI director by an entity comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha was first mooted by CBI. This was proposed to ensure directors were insulated from allegations the government alone chose them.
As outgoing director, what is your advice to the new director?
What advice can I give him? He is too senior. I only wish him great success.