Everything around seems infected by the corruption curse, so it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. It almost seems too good to be true—secret service funds (SSF) running into hundreds of crores, cloak-and-dagger operations, no questions asked, no audit reports required. It’s one of the many privileges our intelligence agencies are entitled to. But what happens when funds from the SSF are used for personal, and not national, interest? An ongoing RTI tussle to reveal details about one such instance from the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) has met with stiff resistance—all in the guise of protecting “security interests”. An embarrassed PMO, to which the NTRO reports directly, has washed its hands of the query and passed it on to the organisation, which in turn claimed last month that it was exempt from the RTI.
This isn’t just a stray case involving the misuse of funds. A far more embarrassing one occurred during the NDA’s reign when A.B. Vajpayee was the PM. A former bureaucrat who was tasked with handing over Rs 15 crore of SSF money to a top Bangladeshi leader during elections there allegedly chose to keep some of it for himself. A probe wasn’t carried out because it came from the ‘secret funds’. Later, the same bureaucrat, who was tipped to take over as head of one of the intel agencies, was not promoted.
Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt is another one who has pointed out abuse of the SSF, details of which he passed on to the Nanavati-Mehta commission inquiring into the Gujarat riots. His note reads: “I am privy to details regarding the exact roles of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah as well as advocates attached with certain law offices in Ahmedabad and Delhi regarding the misuse of public funds (from the SSF) amounting to Rs 10 lakh.” He claims to have witnessed money changing hands between Modi and Shah on April 11, 2002, to bribe the lawyers.
Rana Banerji, ex-RAW special secretary and now member of the taskforce on national security, in a report written for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), had this to say about the SSF: “Several disreputable financial practices have thrived under the grab of operational secrecy, including purchase of capital equipment like cars in violation of standard prescribed norms of the government or the indiscriminate hiring of safehouses which more often than not are properties belonging almost exclusively to in-house employees at different levels of seniority. It has often been revealed that a common misuse of SSF includes renting out of safehouses—that are paid for under SSF—at exorbitant rates.”
Very rarely has the abuse of SSF been scrutinised. One rare instance came from Jharkhand in 2009 where, on the orders of the then governor Syed Sibtey Razi, the state government sought replies from DGP V.D. Ram and additional DGP (Special Branch) Rajiv Kumar about the non-submission of utilisation certificates of SSF. As per the accountant general’s records, no certificates were provided for two withdrawals. Of these, DGP Ram had withdrawn Rs 5.60 crore in cash and ADGP Rajiv Kumar Rs 2.50 crore, both in the same year 2006.
Former RAW man Rana Banerji adds in his report that usage of SSF in the past was “tempered by higher standards of personal probity. But today not all of these hire or purchase powers are exercised with total judiciousness or are even warranted by strict operational needs.... Another recent practice has been to routinely engage retired employees even in non-specialised categories and keep them employed indefinitely on hefty salaries paid from the secret service fund, totally bypassing the laid down government rules and regulations”. Personal probity, that seems to be the key phrase missing in today’s intel services.
Apropos Spooky Money (Nov 26), I have never been a member of any national task force on security. And the IDSA taskforce completed its report on intelligence reform in April 2011. It does not exist now.
Rana Banerjee, Ex-Spl Secy, raw, Delhi
In a land so corrupt and with one of the most compromised bureaucracies of the world, handing out secret funds is just asking for trouble. No wonder our intelligence is in such a shambles.
Navin Malhotra, Delhi
This is why the OSA is better known as the Official’s Secret Act, to claim immunity from unduly nosy citizens.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
David Petraeus was held to a higher standard.
In a land so highly corrupt and with amongst the most corrupt bureaucracies of the world - can any one expect any better!
These funds are actually a gift to the handler - to use at his discretion!
No wonder our Intel is in such a shambles!
I have never been a Member of any National Task Force on Security. The IDSA task force on Intelligence reform completed its report in April,2011. It does not exist now.
I have never been a member of any National Task Force on Security.
The IDSA task force completed its report on Intelligence refprm in April,2011. it does not exist now.
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