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Coal scam: 'CBI is incapable of finding the truth'

July 13, 2017 14:09 IST

'Officers have been made the scapegoat for political failure.'
'No effort has been made to find out who scuttled the prime minister's decision to introduce competitive bidding and why and at whose instance.'

Former coal secretary P C Parakh speaks to Aditi Phadnis about his bookThe Coal Conundrum: Executive Failure and Judicial Arrogance.

You were forced to self-publish your latest book which was released last month. Why? What is the background to the coal conundrum in the country?

There was an apprehension that since the book was critical of the judiciary, it might offend the institution; therefore, no one was willing to publish it.

The book highlights the damage done to the Indian economy and civil service by the government's inability to bring about timely reforms and judicial intervention in economic decisions without a proper appreciation and understanding of government policy, legislative intensions, and the provisions of the law.

The inability of the government to open up the coal sector for commercial mining resulted in a steep increase in India's import of the mineral despite its large resource base adversely affecting our balance of payments.

Large investments that could have come in coal went to Indonesia, Australia, and African countries.

We lost both on investment and employment generation.

By its order cancelling the allocation of all coal blocks made over 15 years and the closure of all operating coal mines, the Supreme Court undermined investor confidence in the country.

If years after huge investments have been made, one fine morning the court orders closure of enterprises, who will be foolhardy enough to invest in this country?

Much worse were CBI (the Central Bureau of Investigation) investigations and subsequent prosecutions, which have demoralised the civil service.

There are serious lacunae in our investigative machinery and administration of criminal justice.

These need to be urgently fixed, otherwise the country's administration will be paralysed.

How do you think the courts will react to your book?

Everyone needs to learn from mistakes.

I have sent a copy of the book to the Chief Justice of India.

As (former RBI governor) Dr Y V Reddy wrote in his review, the judiciary should not react, but respond positively with possible ways forward so that such injustice does not happen at the hands of the judiciary.

I hope the judiciary looks at the book in the right spirit.

At the book's release, Dr Reddy said it was 'a masterpiece that highlights dangers of economic reforms without reforming the judicial, parliamentary, and executive wings'. Do you agree?

I do not think anyone can disagree with Dr Reddy.

With his vast experience in economic administration within and outside the country, he understands wisdom and political courage are required to take up economic reforms.

To deal with India's massive problem of poverty and unemployment, there has to be a holistic approach to economic reforms.

Policy making and its implementation are within the domain of the executive.

Parliament has to provide the necessary legislative support, and the judiciary, in exercise of its powers, should not impose its own economic thinking and frustrate the efforts of the government.

In its efforts to punish a few who might have committed crimes, the judiciary need not punish innocent persons.

What do your experiences tell you about the CBI?

When the CBI registered an FIR (first information report) against me and searched my flat, I was baffled.

I was surprised at the inability of the premier investigating agency of the country to distinguish between right and wrong.

As I wrote in my first book, the 'CBI is incapable of finding the truth'.

The entire approach of the CBI investigations in these cases has been lopsided.

No effort has been made to find out who scuttled the prime minister's decision to introduce competitive bidding and why and at whose instance.

Officers have been made the scapegoat for political failure.

The CBI also needs to eschew unwarranted publicity.

There is no need for it to go to the media at the stage of Preliminary Enquiry and FIR.

The moment it does, it irretrievably damages the reputation of officers and it can never be restored even if nothing incriminating is found against them.

It is unfortunate that the country has no system to compensate citizens for the damage caused to their reputation by State agencies.

The only silver lining was that in my numerous interactions, the CBI officers did not misbehave with me and were courteous during questioning.

Your reputation and integrity and that of former coal secretary H C Gupta are unimpeachable.
And yet you are the two officials named in coal scam.
How can this structural flaw be corrected where those who take decisions are the ones who take the maximum risk?

CBI investigations and subsequent prosecutions expose weaknesses in the administration of criminal justice.

Civil servants are meant to take decisions and they must take decisions; otherwise, the government will be paralysed.

But investigating agencies and judicial officers must be trained to make a distinction between bona fide and mala fide decisions.

Political leadership should have the courage to stand by officers known for their integrity.

Not one political leader from Uttar Pradesh, the parent cadre of Mr Gupta, or the central government, who were aware of his unblemished record in the IAS, gave a statement in his support.

Our leaders need to learn from Sardar Patel as to what goes in making a strong and competent civil service.

The government is planning to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The Prevention of Corruption Act does not define the term 'public interest' as used in Section 13(1) (d) (iii).

The concept 'public interest' cannot be precisely defined.

Whether a decision is in the public interest or not is a matter of subjective interpretation.

The distinction between private and public interest is not purely a legal question, but is also largely a political, economic and contextual one.

A law that criminalises an executive action on the basis of a concept that is capable of multiple subjective interpretations and which does not call for strict proof of mens rea is capable of being misused or abused by the police or judiciary out of ignorance or arrogance.

The sooner such bad laws are thrown out, the better it will be for governance.

Otherwise civil servants will be loath to take decisions.

Photograph: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

Aditi Phadnis
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