MANY of the influential visitors to CBI Chief Ranjit Sinha’s residence between May 2013 and August 2014, it turns out, were under the scanner of a state agency. According to guest log books, Moin Qureshi, who is being investigated by the income tax department, visited Sinha 70 times. And Mahendra Nahata, a 2G scam suspect, called on him 71 times. Sinha has defended the meetings, though he questions the accuracy of the entries, arguing that he needed to “hear their side of the story”. He has also contended that “this is someone from the inside making mischief”. If it is the CBI chief’s case that he is being illegally surveilled, the allegation must be seriously investigated.
But the core — and troubling — question touched off by the episode remains: Is it appropriate for the chief of India’s premier investigation and prosecution agency to mingle with powerful suspects? Appearances matter, but this would also raise legitimate suspicions about the fairness and impartiality of the law enforcement process. At stake here is not just the reputation of the officer, but the integrity of the high office.
Revelations about Sinha’s visitors list also come in at a time when the CBI’s reputation has taken a further hit after the recent closure of high-profile corruption cases it opened with much fanfare only months earlier — the agency has filed a closure report in the Hindalco case and the case against former Sebi chairman C.B. Bhave has also, by all accounts, come to nought. In spite of attempts by the Supreme Court to free the “caged parrot”, and firewall the agency from executive interference, especially after it came to light last year that its affidavit in the coal case was vetted by then law minister Ashwani Kumar and PMO officials, the agency is perceived to lack the capacity to expand or protect its own autonomy. It is seen to be all too vulnerable to political pressures.
Sometimes it takes one good leader — like T.N. Seshan at the Election Commission — to recast the image of an institution and to invest it with a credibility and momentum that endures. So far, Sinha has not been the one to do that for the CBI.