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Can Praveen Sood Get CBI The Public's Trust?

By Aditi Phadnis
May 25, 2023 14:24 IST
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He takes over the CBI in challenging times.
The perception is that the agency is reduced to being an instrument of blackmail and intimidation by successive governments.

IMAGE: Karnataka Director General of Police Praveen Sood, who has been appointed the next director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Amid the heat and dust of the Karnataka assembly elections, another issue has been added to the election outcome: The controversy over the appointment of the new director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Praveen Sood (59).

He was expected to retire in 2024. He will now serve at least till 2025 with the possibility of extensions.

Sood's appointment is being questioned both by political leaders and his peers and seniors, but the matter hit the headlines because Sood is a Karnataka cadre officer of the 1986 batch of the Indian Police Service and his appointment was announced as the Karnataka election results were declared.

As part of CBI trivia, Sood is the third IPS officer from the Karnataka cadre to helm the investigative agency. His predecessors were Joginder Singh and D R Karthikeyan.

He belongs to Himachal Pradesh -- Kangra, which is ecstatic that one of its boys has become chief of the country's premier investigative agencies.

But Sood's education was largely in Delhi, and later in Bengaluru (he has a degree from the Indian Institute of Management) with a sabbatical at Syracuse University in the US.

He joined the service at 22 after passing out from the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and there's a special place in his heart for Mysuru, which was his first posting.

These are, however, the bare bones of his career progression. The real issue is getting legitimacy and respect from the system.

Retired police officer and former special director in the Intelligence Bureau Yashovardhan Azad says: "Praveen Sood, DGP Karnataka, and now CBI chief, was never in CBI nor on deputation to the Centre.

"So, is the basis of empanelment by the Department of Personnel and Training experience, seniority or adjustability -- or whatever the boss says?"

Azad believes the system of "selection" of the CBI chief is wrong and that a panel of five retired CBI or IB chiefs should decide who the CBI chief should be.

A bigger thumbs down came from the people who will now be the political bosses in Karnataka.

Describing Sood as a 'naalayak (no good)' a couple of months ago, Karnataka Congress chief (and now state Deputy Chief Minister) D K Shivakumar said all the officer did as director general of police in Karnataka was to put the political opponents of the government (the BJP at the time) in jail.

'He (DGP Sood) has been in service for the last three years. How many more days will he continue to be a BJP worker?' Shivakumar asked.

'He has registered around 25 cases against Congress leaders and not even a single case against BJP leaders in the state,' Shivakumar had said, sounding a warning: 'Let our government come. We will take action against him.'

Sood has been tested time and again in Karnataka.

After his first stint, he returned to Mysuru as police commissioner between 2004 and 2007.

During this tenure, he and his team arrested two persons amid an exchange of fire on the night of October 26, 2006.

The two, Fahad alias Mohammed Koya from Karachi and Mohammed Ali Hussain alias Jahangir (both of the Al-Badr group), were later convicted for waging war against the nation under the provisions of the Explosive Substances Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Anyone who has ever been to Bengaluru knows what a comprehensive traffic management disaster the city is.

From 2008 to 2011, Sood was additional commissioner of police (traffic) for Bengaluru. He claims to be a strong supporter of technology-driven traffic management, and says he was instrumental in establishing the most advanced traffic management centre in Karnataka's capital city.

Traffic in Bengaluru, however, continues to be chaotic.

Sood takes over the CBI in challenging times.

The perception is that the agency is reduced to being an instrument of blackmail and intimidation by successive governments -- the Supreme Court in 2013 referred to the CBI as a 'caged parrot'.

The CBI's conviction rate has slipped, while its pendency in courts has risen.

Its credibility has been affected after as many as nine states have withdrawn general consent to the CBI over the last four years.

The agency has been riven by very public battles for leadership, the last round being between Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana.

It cannot investigate anyone on its own and as a result, lower level corruption in government tends to get harsh punishment, but its hands appear tied when it comes to the big fish: To prosecute an MLA or state minister, the CBI needs sanction from the speaker of the state Assembly or governor; in the case of an MP, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Vice Chairman of Rajya Sabha must sanction an investigation.

Sood has many ideas under his peaked cap.

He was responsible for tying up with the Infosys Foundation to jointly establish a state-of-art Centre for Cybercrime Investigation, Training and Research, for creating capacity among police officers, prosecutors and judiciary for investigation and trials of cybercrime.

As police commissioner, Bengaluru city, he launched Namma 100, an emergency response system for citizens in distress. The consensus is that this has worked well.

In his new job, Sood will likely face the biggest challenge of all: Getting the CBI the public trust and endorsement it should have. That is still work in progress.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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Aditi Phadnis
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