February 21, 2020
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A Transfer Too Many

The juggling of bureaucrats raises many uncomfortable questions

A Transfer Too Many

PROTEST as they might, the BJP government's sudden transfer of Enforcement director, M.K. Bezbaruah, on August 13 is being widely perceived as unabashed capitulation to pressure to save their government. Particularly as it was followed the next day by a major secretary-level reshuffle involving 17 officials which saw revenue secretary N.K. Singh and finance secretary Montek Singh Ahluwalia relinquish their posts.

The most AIADMK-friendly transfer is that of Bezbaruah, which amounts to a blatant violation of former chief justice J.S. Verma's order last year. According to it, any transfers, promotions or appointments of the director, CBI, and director, Enforcement, are to be made by a committee headed by the chief vigilance commissioner, home secretary and secretary, department of personnel.

Highly-placed sources in the Directorate of Enforcement (DOE) say that both Bezb-aruah and revenue secretary N.K. Singh have been on Jayalalitha's hit-list ever since DOE registered six FERA cases against her during the I.K. Gujral regime. The campaign against Bezbaruah intensified with his attempts to secure details of corruption cases against Jayalalitha which are now handled by the Crime Branch.

If details of these are given to the DOE, they will provide, according to sources, fresh material for the Directorate to register at least half-a-dozen additional FERA cases against Jayalalitha. Since the bill on the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act (FEMA) is deferred to the winter session of Parliament, any foreign exchange violation inquiry against her would invoke FERA.

The demand for ousting Bezbaruah also gained pitch because of the DOE's investigation into the Indian Bank case—an RBI report mentioned Jayalalitha's Hotel Pleasant Stay as one of the beneficiaries in the scam. The CBI had sought the DOE's help in examining the FERA angle as it's required to submit a status report to the Supreme Court on its hearing on August 18.

The build-up became obvious during a recent hearing of a case against T.T.V. Dinakaran—nephew of Jayalalitha's aide Sasikala—on whom the DOE had filed a penalty for Rs 27 crore. According to sources, Dinakaran's team of defence lawyers told DOE counsel, B. Kumar, that this was the last time he would be appearing in court. The pressure to remove Kumar mounted. Clearly, Bezbaruah did not buckle.

 In March this year, Bezbar-uah shot off a note to N.K. Singh, stating that transfer—either in the legal or investigative wing—would amount to contempt of a Supreme Court order. Singh is reported to have agreed. The government, clearly, did not. Says lawyer Abani K. Sahu who's been assisting the Court: "It's a blatantly political move. It will be a deterrent for bureaucrats pursuing other cases." Another controversial choice is of Javed Chaudhary to replace N.K. Singh as revenue secretary, putting him in charge of crucial economic probes. Chaudhary, a former director of the DOE, and the then CBI director Vijay Rama Rao was rapped by the court for tardy progress in the hawala case. As for most of the other transfers, the charge is that they form merely a smokescreen.


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