June 05, 2020
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Towards A Transfer Raj ?

As Gowda exits, trouble looms for handpicked officers, especially in enforcement agencies

Towards A Transfer Raj ?
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WHATEVER the outcome of the political crisis triggered off on March 30, the enforcement arms of the government seem headed for trouble. They have been overworked during the last three years and, in part, have fashioned the demise of the Deve Gowda government. Making matters worse for them is the fact that they have not been able to back their 'detailed' chargesheets in the courts and the acrimony that has followed in its wake has taken even the sleuths by surprise.

Clearly, some top jobs are on the line. Heading the pack, sources say, is CBI director Joginder Singh, handpicked by Gowda from home state Karnataka. In his efforts to toe the boss' line, Singh has made too many enemies, amongst them several politicians. Bihar Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav has reportedly laid down a precondition that the next CBI chief be his appointee. Besides, Minister of State for Personnel S.R. Balasubramanian (TMC) had complained to Gowda that the CBI director, technically answerable to him, was overruling him.

Critics say Joginder Singh has overexposed himself, but he does not seem to have had an option. The intense workload--and the resultant pressure from politicians as well as the scrutiny of courts--has taken its toll. Sitaram Kesri's 'role' in the JMM payoffs, for instance, emerged as the eleventh hour addition to Shailendra Mahto's confessional statement. The man tipped to replace him is sir chief D.R. Kartikeyan, now probing the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. He is reportedly close to G.K. Moopanar, who also has some stake in the Indian Bank case currently under investigation.

In the agency itself there is a sudden rush to get back into the quieter confines of home cadres. L. Revannasidhiah, heading the CBI's special investigation team (SIT) in charge of the Bofors investigation, has gone back as police commissioner of Bangalore. He had sought an 'immediate' transfer back to Karnataka. While his successor has not been named yet, whoever takes over will have the onerous task of questioning Sonia Gandhi on contacts with Ottavio Quattrochi based on the statement given by Arun Nehru. In other words, the officer who does it will be a marked man.

Deputy Inspector General Satish Chandra, who headed the JMM payoffs probe and was primarily responsible for Mahto's confessional statement implicating Kesri, has also applied for a transfer. And Superintended of Police A.K. Sinha, also part of the JMM team, has reverted to his Kerala cadre.

Intelligence Bureau (IB) director Arun Bhagat is also under pressure. Gowda is reportedly very annoyed that despite the political gossip doing the rounds, the IB was not able to cotton on to Kesri's withdrawal decision, notwithstanding the surveillance on the Congress president, and its assessments in Uttar Pradesh regarding the BJP-BSP tie-up were too sketchy to prove of any help. Says an insider: "Politicians now have stopped depending on their own sources. We are not doing government work but political intelligence. You want predictions that should not only suit you but turn out to be accurate as well."

There is resentment brewing against Bhagat, the first 'outsider' to head the IB, an agency where career intelligence officers have spent lifetimes working under policemen well acquainted with its work profile. Suddenly, over the last year under Gowda, there was an invasion of the IB. First one of Gowda's handpicked officers, J. Srinivasulu from the Karnataka cadre, a rank outsider, was moved into the IB as special director in January 1997--a post in which he continued for 40-odd days before going back to Karnataka. Then M.N. Sabharwal, former J&K Police director-general, was forced into the IB, though he has no background in intelligence work.

Another agency likely to see transfers is the Enforcement Directorate. Its director, S. Bezbaruah, has been in charge of cases related to Chandraswami and the ITC scam. Bezbaruah, a meticulous officer who insists on written instructions, has been holding out despite even Finance Minister P Chidambaram being unhappy with him.

Compounding the uncertainty are the far reaching changes in FERA. Sources indicate 'Eat the act is going to be replaced by the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act (FEMA), a relatively harmless piece of legislation which includes a proposal that statements given before the Directorate should not constitute admissible evidence. Bezbaruah had reportedly put up a note before the government saying FEMA smacked of dilution of powers of the Directorate and may be a signal to hawala operators and foreign exchange racketeers to consolidate their 'businesses'. His note seems to have raised the hackles of the powerful Revenue Secretary N.K. Singh, who has been opposing the Directorate's 'raid raj'.

But it is the Income Tax top brass probing the Sahara India advertisement in its dailies who are in bigger trouble. Well-placed sources say that close to 250 persons of assorted ranks in the Income Tax Department connected with the Sahara case--particularly those posted in Lucknow--have been shifted out. Next on the line is the post of director-general of investigations, currently occupied by Ravikant, who is under tremendous pressure to quit. One Sahara official deposing before I-T authorities reportedly said that since the company was paying so much to politicians of all hues in any case, where was the need to pay income tax!

In the Prime Minister's Office, of course, the changes are predictable. Gowda's Principal Secretary Satish Chandra, a retired bureaucrat, will have to go. But even the future of Home Secretary K. Padmanabhiah, already under extension thanks to Gowda, is unsure. As it is, Padmanabhiah's chances of becoming a state governor have receded considerably, given his strained relationship with Home Minister Indrajit Gupta, who is keen to induct a senior West Bengal cadre officer as secretary.

The imminent reshuffle has also brought out inter-cadre rivalries. A section of police officers are said to have made a representation before the home minister. They are irked over appointments made in the central police organisations (CPOS), which they say has become the monopoly of Union Territory (UT) cadre officers. Their demand: put more other states because they are equally qualified. "Arun Bhagat heads the IB. He is a UT man. So are Mukund Behari Kaushal, who is director-general of the Central Reserve Police Force, and Nikhil Kumar, who after the shootout in Delhi was 'demoted' as the ITBP chief thanks to his political connections," says a Kerala cadre officer, who has been trying for empanelment to the CPOS for a long time. In the case of Kaushal, the post was downgraded in an unprecedented move to accommodate the relatively junior officer.

The man who has taken over as Delhi's police commissioner, T.N. Kakkar, has the backing of Congressman R.K. Dhawan and Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, but is extremely unpopular with the powerful Bihar lobby in the Delhi Police. In addition, Kiran Bedi, who has been appointed special secretary to the Lt Governor, has been more than keen to have a say in the running of Delhi Police--something that was not particularly entertained by Nikhil Kumar during his tenure as commissioner. Sources say hectic lobbying was already on, within weeks of Kakkar taking over, to oust him with the help of a United Front minister and could have been partially successful in at least clipping Kakkar's wings, but for the political developments.

Clearly, the stage is set for largescale changes, with more and more politicians coming into the enforcement agencies' net. That may well be the agenda of the new government, if the current indications and the political outrage at being implicated in cases are anything to go by.

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