'I was at a very senior position in the CBI and what happens is, hints are dropped for you to act upon. But then it depends upon your conscience, to do it or otherwise.'
'I know the rank and file of the CBI, they will bounce back; it is the leadership which has failed.'
Barely two days before he was to be promoted as director, Central Bureau of Investigation, Rupak Kumar Dutta received a fax saying he had been transferred to the ministry of home affairs as special secretary.
Widely believed to be an upright officer, Dutta never had even the faintest shadow of any misdemeanour cast on him during his tenure in the Bureau.
As the Indian Police Service officer with the longest tenure in the CBI -- 18 years -- and hence the senior-most person in the Bureau, Dutta was a shoo-in for the director's post.
Neither his immediate boss, then CBI director Anil Sinha, nor the Central Vigilance Commission stopped the trajectory of events that Dutta says gave him "shock after shock" and which he hasn't been able to put behind him.
That was in 2016.
Had things been different, Dutta would have been the CBI director today, and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, the current number 2 in the organisation, would have been reporting to him.
After he was denied the CBI director's post, Dutta returned to Karnataka, his IPS cadre, where he retired as director general of police last year.
Now the Karnataka state Human Rights Commissioner, Dutta speaks to Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com about his tenure in his beloved organisation, the crises it faces today and the way ahead.
"I did my job professionally and you have seen the consequences," he says.
How does the government wield influence on the CBI?
How can I answer that question?
The CBI director, who is in touch with the government or the powers that be, will be in a better position to answer that.
But yes, these things do happen at senior positions. I was at a very senior position in the CBI and what happens is, hints are dropped for you to act upon.
But then it depends upon your conscience, to do it or otherwise.
My conscience never permitted it. I did my job professionally and you have seen the consequences.
Yes, you were shunted out, else you would have been the CBI director today and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, your deputy. In retrospect, are you glad about what happened?
There is no question of being glad.
What is happening today is very, very unfortunate, very sad.
These allegations and counter-allegations... I can't believe that the accused are in such a senior position.
Whether these are true or false will come up in the investigation.
When CBI director Anil Sinha retired in December 2016, you were the obvious successor and probably the right person to head the Bureau. Why were you shunted out?
I was the senior-most person available in the CBI, so I would say I should have been the natural successor.
Whether right person or not, the selection committee decides. But naturally, being the #2 in the organisation, I could have succeeded Anil Sinha.
I still don't know, till today, why I was shunted out.
Did it come as a shock to you?
As an IPS officer, I have the longest tenure in the CBI, which nobody in the country, past or present, has.
I have worked for three tenures over 18 long years.
I have been sought by CBI directors, professionally.
I was promoted in 2015 and made special director when the same government (Bharatiya Janata Party) was there and all of a sudden two days before the director is to retire, I am removed, and that too without any reason.
When I go and call on certain persons (his then boss Anil Sinha), they are absolutely silent.
When Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, whom I don't know at all, had taken it up in the Supreme Court, on behalf of NGO Common Cause, the government said, 'We have given him a very important position. We require such officers in such positions'. It was shock after shock.
Why didn't you approach the courts or the Central Vigilance Commission if you felt wronged?
See, it is not easy to bang your head against the government.
In my life I have never done that and the CBI director's post is not so important that I will pick up a fight with the government.
I am a very disciplined and low-profile officer.
Neither will I ever approach the courts; why should I?
You believe you have had spotless service. Did that in fact go against you?
In the 18 years of long service with the CBI, I have never, never, been accused of any misdemeanour.
I don't know if this went against me.
They have yet to give me answers.
Does this incident still bother you? Have you moved on?
Definitely, it still bothers me.
Especially if you are most eligible and you are sent out like this, saying we are sending you to a very important assignment... it's like, you wonder what kind of a world you are living in.
Had you been CBI director how would you have handled the situation?
See, such a situation would never have arisen primarily, because #2 -- Mr Asthana -- could not have alleged anything against me.
I'm not saying that what he has alleged against Mr Verma (current CBI Director Alok Verma) is true, but if you don't do anything, why should anyone allege anything? There is no smoke without fire.
It is a matter to be investigated, but the point remains is I cannot imagine a situation (if I was CBI director) of Mr Asthana raising any allegation against me.
I understand the working of the CBI and I would have definitely ensured that the CBI reaches its pinnacle, reaches its glory.
But isn't it true that internal strife within any organisation is a given? The difference now is that it has come out in the open.
Yes, that is correct.
See, what happens is that #1 sees #2 as a threat.
I don't know why it should happen because now the CBI director has a fixed tenure.
I have seen the CBI from the eighties and quite often there are tensions between #1 and #2.
So, why does it happen?
It happens if #2 is given dominance by the powers that be and the director feels slighted.
#1 is #1.
The outside world cannot have contacts with anyone other than #1, not #2 or # 3 or #10, because then you are breaking the structure of the organisation.
When we say the CBI reports to some authority, it is in fact, the director who reports.
But if #2 or #3 or #10 are summoned by people outside the bureau, everybody becomes the director and that is where the problems arise.
So the point of contact between the CBI and anybody outside the organisation is always the director?
Yes, it has to be.
There is no question of anybody else being a point of contact.
In fact if anybody tries to contact the lower rungs he should be dealt with as a matter of indiscipline.
If tensions always exist between #1 and #2, why did it not turn into something as ugly as this earlier?
So, how did this precipitate?
First of all, in the absence of the director selections were made.
These kind of selection committee meetings under the CVC are adjourned, postponed for days together.
If the director goes out for a week, 10 days, it's not as if the heavens will fall.
The vacancies have been there for days, months, years together.
That you have to hold the special committee meeting in the absence of the director... never ever in the history of the CBI have such things been done.
So obviously the director felt threatened. And obviously there are the personalities involved.
This director obviously did not want to take things lying down and he perhaps reacted. And once one reacts, it becomes crisis after crisis.
You have worked with Rakesh Asthana before?
I have not worked directly with Asthana because he was with the Dhanbad branch and I was with the main branch, the Delhi branch, the most prestigious branch.
He joined the Bureau in April 2016, so we were colleagues for around eight months. But I found him fine. Absolutely fine. I had no problem, no issues with him.
How does the government influence the CVC and what is the role of the CVC in the CBI?
This is a very sensitive question and I can only suggest please look into how the appointments in the CVC are done and how the vigilance commissioner is appointed.
These are bigger questions which should be looked into.
As far as the functioning is concerned, the Central Vigilance Commission exercises superintendence over the CBI in corruption matters.
Can the CVC act suo motu or does the CBI have to approach the CVC in case of an issue like this?
The CVC has superintendence of the CBI and it can certainly call the CBI to settle issues, to set things right.
The present CVC chief K V Chowdhary's appointment was challenged through a PIL.
Yes, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Opposition parties say the CBI's credibility, reliability, integrity has been destroyed by this incident? Would you agree?
Let me tell you the reputation of the CBI as a body is intact.
I know the rank and file of the CBI, they will bounce back; it is the leadership which has failed.
The foundation of the CBI was laid by its first director, Mr D P Kohli.
We have had occasions where people who have never worked in the CBI became director and special director and they thought they will bring in new systems. But the system that was created by Mr Kohli is intact even today and so robust nobody will be able to manipulate any investigation in the CBI.
You leave your trail if you play with the investigation because there are so many checks, so many layers to any investigation.
So the CBI as an institution is intact and the media should not project it otherwise.
Certainly, the credibility of the CBI has been eroded because of this crisis, but if a good leader takes over, you will see how it bounces back.
Does that imply that Nageshwara Rao, the interim director, against whom there are corruption charges, is unfit for the post?
I cannot comment on this.
Has the CBI crisis been exacerbated by the government in power? Why did the government wait so long to step in? Would this have happened if the United Progressive Alliance was in power?
I am not concerned with political parties. It could have happened any time.
It's because of the two individuals involved and because of the way things were done.
Because of the selection committee meeting in CBI Director Alok Verma's absence.
It infuriated him and he sent a note to the CVC that there are allegations against #2 (Rakesh Asthana) despite which he was made special director.
This is how things got ugly.
The CVC should have stepped in.
Alok Verma's plea in the Supreme Court is that sending him on leave and divesting him of his powers before he finished his term is illegal. But it would be illegal only if he was sacked. So does he have a legal leg to stand on?
Point remains that there is a crisis, there are allegations against #1, so obviously, he cannot investigate (Asthana).
Once allegations are levelled against a person, he cannot sit over a probe against #2 because #1, in his own interest, he should step down from the investigation.
There cannot be a fair investigation on the allegations made by #2 if Verma is director.
The director has a tenure of two years so he cannot be removed, which is why he has been asked to go on leave.
Whether that amounts to removal? The matter is before the Supreme Court. Let the court decide.
What are the implications of going on leave?
The implications are that he has no power to function as a director now. It's as simple as that.
The point remains he is still director CBI, but without any powers.
He cannot even enter the CBI office.
It's as good as removal.
The Opposition says Alok Verma was probing the Rafale deal and therefore action was taken against him.
I cannot comment on that because I am not privy to the information.
What I have been told is that a complaint has been given to the CBI by three persons -- Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr Arun Shourie and Mr Prashant Bhushan -- but I don't know what the CBI has been doing with it.
Former Union Ministers and senior BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court for registration of an FIR and investigation by the CBI into the Rafale deal. The petition says that in the Rafale deal there is prima facie evidence of commission of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act by public servants occupying the highest public office in the country.
The petitioners had filed a complaint on October 4 before the CBI alleging foul play in the Rafale deal, but no action has been taken.
Former CBI director Ranjit Sinha (tenure from 2012 to 2014) had been accused of allowing former UPA law minister Ashwini Kumar to make changes in the coal block allocation report. It was then that Justice R M Lodha had used the term 'caged parrot' for the CBI.
How free is the CBI from government pressure? How independent is it?
The CBI is absolutely independent.
After the Vineet Narain judgment, the first bureaucrat who was given a fixed tenure by the Supreme Court was the director CBI.
Now, of course, you have fixed tenures for the Cabinet secretary, home secretary etc.
Nobody can sack the director before the tenure expires, so why should he be scared of anyone?
But what happens is that sometimes these people (CBI directors) desire to have retirement benefits, and they may try to be goody-goody and accommodative of the government's demands.
If a director bows to government pressure, it is because he wants to.
He has been given a fixed tenure of two years, he need not do it (bow to government pressure).
If he is doing it, it is his doing.
I would say, it is not a reflection on the CBI.
Remember, the director CBI is much better ensconced in his chair now after the Vineet Narain judgment than before.
When former CBI director Joginder Singh had filed the chargesheet against then Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, he was removed overnight.
Conversely, will a fixed tenure then abet corruption?
Let's take this case, for instance, what should have been done?
One, get this investigated quickly by an independent agency under the direction of the CVC or the Supreme Court or any other body in a time-bound manner.
Two, the government can call the three-member selection committee comprising the PM, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India and probe the corruption charges against the director.
If the charges are found to be false, the director stays.
If found to be true, the director can be removed.
If a committee has the power to appoint, it also has the power to remove.
So it's not that once the director gets appointed, the government's hands are tied.
The director can then create havoc.
That is why there is a Chief Justice in the selection committee to ensure there is a balance, whichever way the verdict goes.
Does a candidate's political affiliations affect his chances of becoming a CBI director?
Definitely it could.
But no government servant can be aligned overtly; it's simply not allowed.
If the government feels, there may be no proof, but there is simply a perception that the candidate is pro-Opposition, then the government will oppose.
Then the CJI has to take a stand and weigh in and say there is no proof and he finds the candidate absolutely fine.
If there is proof of political affiliation, the candidate is rejected.
But if there is nothing on record, then the CJI is the one who decides and the verdict can be 2:1 or 1:2 or or even a consensus.
Didn't the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjuna Kharge, say he wanted you as CBI director and didn't that go against your appointment?
The selection committee meeting took place in January 2017, and Mr Kharge only asked why I, who had 18 years of experience in the CBI (Dutta had already been transferred to the home ministry) vis a vis incumbent Mr Verma who has not worked even a day in the CBI, had been chosen?
I agree there was a perception that I was close to Mr Kharge.
By coincidence, I happen to belong to the Karnataka cadre of the IPS and Mr Kharge also belonged to the same state.
You ask Mr Kharge whether I was politically inclined towards anyone or ask any IPS officer also.
Verma had worked for a little over a year in vigilance in the Delhi police and even though I had more than four years with the Lokayukta in Karnataka and more than 22 years of relevant experience, Chief Justice V N Khare pointed out that vigilance experience should have precedence over seniority.
Is CBI vs CBI really Congress vs BJP? How do you see it ending?
I don't know (laughs).
#3 (CBI Interim Director Nageshwara Rao), who is there now, we hear some story about him every day. Where will the CBI go? I don't know!
1 and #2 are gone, and with #3, it's a cricket match happening.
#3 is getting bouncers.
The bouncers that the CBI is receiving because of his appointment.
I don't whether he can sustain now, the way things are happening!
So, doesn't it show there is something wrong with the way inductions happen?
The instances of corruption against #1, #2, #3 took place before they were inducted.
It puts a big question mark on the very selection process.
Exactly. So, how effective is a three-member committee for the appointment of a director or the CVC for other appointments?
The three-member selection committee does not look into integrity.
The background check, the integrity aspect, is made by the CVC.
How can induction be improved?
In the past, the director had a prime say in induction.
Not any more.
Earlier, the CVC would look into whether the candidate's integrity was OK after a background check from the vigilance angle.
Even though the director was not part of the committee, the person would get inducted.
But now, the CVC, home secretary, DoPT secretary make the decisions, as they did earlier too, with the director as the ex-officio member of the committee. But how much say does he really have?
I don't want to comment on it. If the selection meeting was held in the absence of a director, it speaks volumes.
Should the Vineet Narian judgment be relooked?
I think so. It's about time.
The three-member committee, the two-year tenure, etc, everything is falling apart.
I think there is a need to bring in further checks.
Do you know that the CBI is functioning in suspended animation that the CBI's locus standi as a body, has been quashed by the Guwahati high court? The matter is lying in the Supreme Court.
In November 2013, the Gauhati high court struck down the resolution through which the Central Bureau of Investigation was set up and held all its actions as 'unconstitutional'.
The DSPE Act, which provided the source of authority to the CBI to function as a police organisation and exercise its powers akin to state police under the Criminal Procedure Code was struck down.
Do you feel the CBI under this government has been increasingly used to act against the Opposition or dissenting voices? Was this there during your tenure?
I don't think I have faced these kind of things when I was there.
I have worked in the CBI for 18 long years and I have never felt this organisation was used to target the Opposition.
If you were to lay a wager on Asthana or Verma, who would it be?
Both are on the same footing.
Neither would win, I would say.