A ghost from CBI’s past

The Central Bureau of Investigation has a commendable past, a reasonable present despite many unfortunate blemishes, and the possibility of a good future. Lately, it has often been in the news for the wrong reasons, eclipsing its other achievements. The newly appointed director, Ranjit Sinha, should be complimented for his initiative in inviting the President of India to deliver the D.P. Kohli Memorial lecture on its golden anniversary. This was the first time a President addressed CBI officers. Let us hope that his sage advice will inspire and guide our premier investigation agency. The families of now dead former chiefs of the CBI and Special Police Establishment (SPE) and living former chiefs were invited for the anniversary, including Khan Bahadur Qurban Ali Khan’s family from Pakistan. In view of allegations that Q.A. Khan organised the massacre of Sikh refugees at Sheikhpura in Pakistan and his association with the raising of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been repeatedly organising terror attacks in India, it was not prudent to invite his family. The press picked up the story. The government turned down the visa request as it had been submitted too late and avoided a needless controversy.
In late 1946, Parliament passed the Special Police Establishment Act for SPE to be under an inspector-general officer with a much-expanded role of dealing with corruption and serious criminal cases, including those with inter-state dimensions and reporting to the home ministry. I met Q.A. Khan just after he moved from Lahore to Delhi in early 1947 with a newly raised skeleton SPE staff. He was an elderly officer promoted from deputy SP who had served under Sir Norman Smith, then director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB), when the latter was IG police, Punjab. The process of Indianisation began in South Block with the interim government coming to power in September 1946. I was posted as a captain in Military Operations, Army Headquarters.
A couple of months later my father was posted as the first Indian officer to IB, as number two to Sir Norman. Military Operations and IB were located adjacent to each other, on the first floor in South Block. There were then very few Indian officers in the Army or civil services serving in South Block.
A great majority were British officers. I had occasionally carried top secret files from Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Smith, the Chief of General Staff, and handed them over to his younger brother who was the DIB. On my father’s coming to the IB, I used to go to his office for lunch and would often meet his colleagues. I had occasion to meet Q.A. Khan in the IB.
After Japan occupied Burma in 1941, India could not import rice from Burma, its rice bowl. The Bengal famine of 1943 made matters worse. Punjab became the main source for food and supplies to the now two-million strong war-time Army. There were reports of large-scale corruption in procurement of food and supplies. A war supply department was set up in Lahore to monitor procurement. A small police cell was set up in this department to investigate corruption cases. Q.A. Khan was posted to this cell. In 1943, this cell was expanded and made independent of the war supply department under Q.A. Khan, now SP. He was serving directly under IG police, Punjab.
As stated earlier, in early 1947 he moved to Delhi. In June 1947, Partition was announced. Q.A. Khan was now in a hurry to get back to Pakistan’s Punjab. He rose to be IG police, Punjab, and on retirement governor of North-West Frontier Province. At the time of Partition, our civil and military top hierarchies were in a flux. British officers in senior positions had to suddenly depart and Pakistan officers were in a hurry to go to their newly created country. Sanjeeva Reddy succeeded Sir Norman.
I have had occasion to interact with the CBI in my official capacity. As adjutant-general, I dealt with discipline cases. I frequently interacted with the then CBI director, Raj Deo Singh. He and I were students together at Patna College and were good friends. He was an efficient and impartial officer who carried out his duties without fear or favour. Unfortunately, on Indira Gandhi coming back to power in 1980, he was hounded out of the CBI and took premature retirement.
The CBI was getting tainted in dealing with corruption cases involving political leaders, eclipsing all its good work in other cases. The agency claims over 66 per cent convictions for cases investigated by it. This is creditable record compared to investigations by the state police. However, its record of securing convictions in cases involving political leaders is abysmal and dilatory, showing how it has become the handmaiden of the government.
As governor of Assam, I had to reject the recommendation of the CBI to prosecute my chief minister as I was not satisfied that a case had been established. The Opposition party made a great fuss about this and it became a national controversy. It was the first time a governor had turned down the recommendation of the CBI. The Opposition appealed to the high court against my decision, but the decision was upheld by the court and the appeal against this verdict was not admitted by the Supreme Court.
Investigation of criminal cases by the police is an important part of the judicial process.
This has been badly compromised in the states. Let this not happen at the Centre. Eminent CBI officers like former director Joginder Singh and former joint director A.K. Lal have made good recommendations for improving the functioning of the CBI. In some cases, high courts and the Supreme Court have been monitoring CBI investigations. It is high time that the CBI in its functioning is made independent of the government.
The present system of Cabinet ministers and committed bureaucrats selecting the CBI director should be scrapped. A committee under a Supreme Court judge, with the home and law ministers, Leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament and the CVC as members, should be constituted. There should be a cooling period of two years for a retired CBI director and all civil and military officers before re-employment in government, as in the US. These measures will greatly improve the quality and transparency of our democracy.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir

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