“I will get back to playing golf and spend time with my two daughters, have had enough of politics and crime,” says Amar Pratap Singh when TEHELKA asked if he would now be a regular on TV debates, that his career as chief of one of the most prestigious units – the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), comes to an end. He retired as the CBI Director on 30 November.
Singh’s tenure has seen perhaps the most crucial times for the agency which saw controversial cases like the 2G scam, Aarushi murder case, Adarsh scam and the Gujarat fake encounters being investigated and having been accused of being run by the Congress-led government. An accidental cop, as he calls himself, Singh could have been a banker, but for a chance shot at giving exams for the services as it was fashionable to be a cop. In a candid interview, two days before he handed over the charge to Ranjit Sinha, Singh took on the difficult questions from Rana Ayyub.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
As we sit here in your office in North Block, there is a controversy brewing over the appointment of Ranjit Sinha, with the Opposition demanding a consensus candidate before his name was announced? Your thoughts
See, Ranjit Sinha is an experienced officer who knows the services and is one of the senior-most cops whose recommendation was given by us. It’s unfortunate that his appointment has become so controversial and allegations of extensive lobbying are being made against him. The Supreme Court has set guidelines for appointment of an officer and I believe that’s exactly what the case was with Sinha’s appointment. There have been suggestions that I had asked for an extension. Let me set the record straight, neither have I asked for an extension, nor did the government offer me one. Yes, I had suggested that the term of the CBI director be extended from two to five years, or at least three years, so there is continuity and helps the cases see their logical end. However, that was not personally for me, that was a general suggestion. I have done my job to the best of my ability. I am leaving CBI with a clean slate for Ranjit Sinha.
When you say logical end, do you believe that most cases handed over to the CBI were dealt with without any political interference?
What political interference? All the cases, be it the 2G, Aarushi, the four fake encounters from Gujarat or the rest, they were being directly monitored by the Supreme Court and it was the one giving extensions and approving the status reports, so where is the question of politicisation of the CBI. I mean, the same people who call us Congress Bureau of Investigation do not lose an opportunity to ask for a CBI inquiry, so why the hypocrisy. Under my tenure, the CBI has been absolutely independent in working as an investigating agency. Internally, yes, we have had a difference of opinion, be it with my juniors or with my special directors over some cases, but that’s where it ends. The buck stopped at my door. I had to take a call at the most testing times. We are being accused of being party to politics. Well, I do meet politicians and bureaucrats, but that’s a part of my job. Having said that, I do ensure that none of my officials are exposed to such political meetings.
You raised an important point that you and your officers had a difference of opinion on cases. Aarushi murder case was one such case, I believe?
Yes, it was. My gut said that the parents were not involved, but that was my personal opinion. I was not convinced with that line of opinion. My investigating officers had reasons to believe otherwise. There were four people in the house, two were murdered, two were alive and nobody else has access to the house. Eventually, I agreed and went with the findings of my officers and concurred with them. That’s what democratic organisations are all about. There have been cases when we have started out on a different note and ended up going in another direction. The Shehla Masood case was one such case. We thought it was the RTI link that got her murdered, it ended up being personal. So that’s what I am saying, we are humans, and our perceptions are liable to change during the course of investigation.
Your own officials believe that A Raja was implicated politically whereas the others were left scot-free. That Raja’s arrest was a part of the Congress strategy to keep the DMK in control.
Well, there are always doubts and those exist in every case. The 2G case was being monitored by the Supreme Court directly. Now, one can’t accuse the Supreme Court of being motivated. It was a clear case of corruption on paper, more of an anti-corruption unit’s job and we did just that. Followed the dots. But yes, I said earlier too, officers may not subscribe to my views and opinions, but I, as a CBI director, have to look at the evidence, talk to attorneys, amicus and then take a decision. This is my job and it comes with a fair share of criticism.
And Amit Shah? TEHELKA produced the most incriminating evidence which led to his arrest but he is out on bail now. The case seems to be going nowhere. There are three other cases of fake encounters in Gujarat which the CBI is investigating and on which exposes have been published by TEHELKA, and today, he is contesting elections.
Where did we err in Amit Shah? The call records indeed are the more crucial bit of evidence and we left no stone unturned. But then, there were many hurdles. Our officers faced a great deal of hostility in the state with almost no help. Investigating officers had to be changed, with accusations thrown in, with investigations taking longer than ever. But today, as the four cases stand, the Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati case, Amit Shah stands as a criminal, chargesheeted in them. Sooner or later, law will take its course. Right now, it’s the Supreme Court which has ordered a stay in the case. We will have to wait for the next hearing. As far as him contesting elections is concerned, it’s beyond us to stop a criminal from contesting elections. We have done our best
There is a cynicism that has crept in, that the cases in Gujarat have slowed down due to the elections. It’s been four years since the case was handed over to the CBI.
That question needs to be asked to the Supreme Court. It’s not that we did not arrest Amit Shah, but then, there is a legal system that prevails in this country that cannot be challenged. I am aware of the accusations being made against us of going slow, but have we not made significant breakthroughs. We arrested the Home Minister and now we have chargesheeted him again in the Tulsi Prajapati case. Where is the question on letting loose the criminals. It’s just a matter of time.
But TEHELKA had not just produced evidence against Amit Shah, but also against top IPS officers. We accessed your status reports which recommended their arrests. Why does one not see that?
See, we did name them in the chargesheet for obfuscation of evidence and of course, the IPS officers are party to tampering with details. But we just can’t arrest anybody like this. They have been named in the chargesheet, now the law will have to take its course. You have to give CBI the credit from taking over the case and taking it to a logical end at a time when almost all of the evidence was beyond our reach.
What about the involvement of the IB? Your agency seems to have given them a clean chit irrespective of the evidence against them?
We have not given anybody a clean chit, including the IB, if that answers the question. Remember, the cases are still under investigation.
Let’s get to the debate on bringing the CBI under the ambit of Lokpal. There has been a great bit of debate on this and you have personally spoken to political outfits. How do you deal with the Opposition’s view, especially that of the BJP, that the CBI should be brought under the ambit of Lokpal?
I have done my best as the CBI director to reach out to all political outfits, including the BJP, and I believe I brought consensus amongst most of the parties on letting the CBI work independently, i.e. without being brought under the Lokpal. Earlier nobody asked us, now our opinion is being sought. We met the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, and convinced them that they could not divide the CBI and change the intrinsic character of the agency. The final Select Committee Bill is different from the original Jan Lokpal Bill. It is for this reason that we met the political outfits and leaders, and not for other political maneuverings, as it was rumored.
What are the problems that the CBI is facing right now?
We have too little man power and too many cases. Almost everyone wants every case to go to the CBI. Now, there are other units which are set up for these crimes. CBI was originally meant for economic crimes and those related to corruption. I am glad that the public has great faith in the CBI but we too have our shortcomings. We were recently asked to investigate a case in Jharkhand on illegal construction of a small scale. If all this has to be done by the CBI then what is the need for the local police. The system has to strengthen the hands of the CBI and give it more power. Besides, it needs to do some tough rethink on the tenure of CBI chiefs. As I leave today, I can now understand the importance of longer terms. Now, whatever cases are being investigated by the CBI will go slow as the new CBI chief will take time to understand his cases and give his viewpoint. Then, the cases will take time to reach their logical conclusion and then, the CBI will be accused of going slow.
Did the formation of NIA help? Also, don’t you think there should be better coordination between the CBI, NIA and RAW?
Well, the NIA was formed with the intent of handling terror related crimes and it was needed as the CBI is not well versed to deal with terror related cases and it needs officers with specific training. Yes, having said that, the CBI has done its best, whether it’s taking over cases from the SIT or handing over to the NIA. Nothing better than coordination. But then, everything takes time. We might not be the best in terms of coordination but then, those in power, and the Home Department, should take steps to ensure this, to avoid miscommunication, to ensure better handling and transparency in cases.
Do you have any regrets? Any cases which you believe were the high points of your stint as the CBI director?
None that I can think of (laughs). I think I had a good success rate. My conscience is clear and my officials, despite the pressure of being looked at with cynicism and suspicion, have done a great job, in perhaps the toughest time for the agency. As the director, I would personally believe that unlike the 2G and Adarsh case, where everything was on paper, I preferred cases like the Bhanwari Devi case and the Shehla Masood case which were the biggest achievements of the CBI. Where we started from nowhere and managed to get the truth out of the graves. Cases that were not seen as political ploys. Where we got to use the FBI for detecting the true face of the culprits. It made us feel like IPS officers back again.
Rana Ayyub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.