CBI: Different strokes for different folks

by Abraham Thomas

The CBI’s handling of cases involving Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad has exposed the varied yardsticks adopted by the probe agency in dealing with these political heavyweights.To start with, all three leaders faced Disproportion Asset cases in which the assessment of the Income Tax department was key to their prosecution. While in case of Lalu and Mulayam, the CBI turned a blind eye to I-T department’s relief to them, in case of Mayawati, the agency claimed that the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal’s (ITAT) clean chit to her was based on “assumptions” and that it had sufficient evidence to prosecute the BSP chief.

Interestingly, Mayawati had raised the ITAT decisions of April 5 and April 19 this year to allege double standards against the Centre, claiming the CBI had let them (Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad) off on the basis of Income Tax department’s clean chit.

Followings details will serve to highlight the pick-and-choose approach of the country’s premier investigating agency.

Mayawati (BSP chief)

Mayawati seems to have run into a rough patch with the Centre lately. This explains the latest demand by the CBI, investigating charges of disproportionate assets against her, to prosecute her despite the Income Tax Tribunal giving a ruling in her favour by dismissing her unaccounted wealth as merely “gifts”.

The latest move by Mayawati to downsize Congress in Uttar Pradesh is evident from her recent decision to rename Amethi and remove chunks of population out of Amethi and Rae Bareli districts in the UP to carve out a new district named after Dalit icon Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj.

But the very same CBI now wanting to prosecute Mayawati, six years ago desired to file a closure report against her. Then, it was the valuable intervention of the apex court that chided the agency for relying on opinion rendered by law officers, forcing the CBI to draw a chargesheet against her.

It was on September 18, 2003, that the Supreme Court handed CBI the probe into Mayawati's assets in relation to the Taj Heritage Corridor project where the State Government had illegally diverted Rs 17 crore without obtaining mandatory clearances. Based on preliminary probe into the case, the CBI recommended registration of FIR against Mayawati and her Cabinet colleague Naseemuddin Siddiqui, the then State Environment Minister.

On December 31, 2004, the CBI Director in his status report to the apex court disclosed that the evidence was not sufficient to prosecute Mayawati and that the agency should be given permission to file a closure report in the case. The suggestion was backed by a legal opinion of Attorney General who held, "In absence of any evidence to suggest criminal mens rea on the part of any individual and due to lack of evidence of any pecuniary benefit to any of the officers or any other person, the proper course of action would be to take disciplinary action against the officers for their omission and misconduct."

Mulayam Singh

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh is awaiting the decision on an application moved by the CBI before the Supreme Court to withdraw prosecution against him in a case of disproportionate assets alleged to be acquired by him and his family.

The application dated November 17, 2008, was moved by the CBI, placing reliance on the opinion given by then Solicitor General Goolam E Vahanvati who recommended withdrawal of prosecution against the SP chief. The law officer suggested that assets possessed by Mulayam and his family must be "segregated" and if accounting of the assets is done considering this fact, the assets of the former UP Chief Minister would come to Rs 2.6 crore.

But the silence of the CBI was most noteworthy. This was the same agency that moved an application in October 2007 seeking permission from the court to further probe the charges against Mulayam and his family. In pressing for the demand, the agency claimed it had "sufficient evidence" gathered from its preliminary investigation conducted on basis of the March 1, 2007 order of the Supreme Court directing a CBI probe into the illegal assets of Mulayam, his children and daughter-in-law.

What changed over the one-year period (October 2007-November 2008) was the changing political relationship between the UPA Government at Centre and the Samajwadi Party. The Left Front, an ally of the UPA Government, had withdrawn support to the Centre in July 2008 over the nuclear deal. With the Samajwadi Party offering its unconditional support to the Centre, the CBI was merely formalising the thaw in relation by negating its own investigation.

But to justify its blow-hot-blow-cold approach, the CBI chose an alibi in the opinion given by Director of Prosecution, SK Sharma. This opinion was merely a stamp of approval to the Solicitor General's opinion and was a desperate attempt by the Government to please its strange but new bedfellow.

Lalu Prasad

In case of Lalu, the Income Tax and CBI joined hands to bail out Lalu Prasad.

First, Income Tax authorities gave clean chit to Lalu on July 2, 2004, despite a clear finding against him that a sum of Rs 70,000 had escaped assessment for the assessment years, 1986-87 and 1996-97.

Then the CBI refused to appeal against the Special CBI Judge (AHD), Patna, order acquitting both Lalu and Rabri. In fact, the CBI opposed the State Government's appeal in the high court and contested it up to the SC.

One of the judges of the three-member SC Bench, who had dissented with the Bench in upholding the Income Tax clean chit to Lalu, had commented: "This court has noticed in number of cases that even an innocuous statement of the (Income Tax) tribunal against the Revenue officers is challenged before the higher courts on the grounds that such observations are aspersions against the officers who have performed their duty and that they need to be expunged….Applying the same yardstick one fails to understand as to why the Revenue has not moved in appeal even when its own higher officers are branded as biased in deciding matters against Lalu and Rabri."

COURTESY: THE PIONEER , AUG 30 /10

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