A silver lining

Print edition : September 26, 1998

The Supreme Court's directions in the Bezboruah case will have the effect of boosting the morale of all honest officers in government.

IN the first week of September 1998, C. R. Irani, Editor-in-Chief of The Statesman, published a book titled Hounding Bezbaruah. It is a compilation of interesting and incisive articles written by him in the column "Caveat" between May 1998 and August 1998. In these articles, Irani goes hammer and tongs at the machinations of the Government with respect to M.K. Bezboruah.

In his preface to the book, Irani notes:

"K. Madhavan, the upright officer of the CBI, investigating the Bofors case, once found to his horror that the Additional Solicitor General was about to give the case away in the Delhi High Court. He intervened and corrected the law officer. He saved the day but the then Law Minister, the maverick Subramaniam Swamy, called for him and reprimanded him for doing his duty. It did not suit Swamy's purposes. Madhavan left the CBI and the Bofors investigation never got off the ground again. He had to leave because he came too close for comfort, not to put too fine a point on it, too close for the comfort for Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. It is happening again in another context. Another honest, capable and outstanding officer is being victimised for doing his duty, M.K. Bezbaruah, the Director of Enforcement, on the trail of a number of crooks. On 13 August 1998 he was summarily transferred out of the Directorate and asked to run Delhi's buses. The conspirators have succeeded - for the moment."

It is an honour to be remembered six years after one's voluntary retirement as an "upright officer of the CBI" and I am grateful to The Statesman's Editor-in-Chief. The Bofors case was the precursor, and the securities scam cases were the immediate cause, of my putting a premature end to my service life.

In the Bezboruah matter, the Government has been made to eat humble pie and whipped by the Supreme Court, reinstating the officer as Director, Enforcement Directorate. While the BJP has avoided comment, the Congress(I) has criticised the Government for transferring Bezboruah and thereby "violating the norms of the civil services". Judged by my own experiences under Congress(I) governments, I regard this as an example of an absolutely black pot calling a new kettle black.

During 1977-79, when I was working as Superintendent of Police in the CBI, I investigated a number of cases relating to Emergency-related corruption allegations. In some of them Indira Gandhi was an accused along with other powerful personalities. While the CBI indicted her in some cases, it cleared her in some others. A fair analysis of the work done by me and other similarly placed officers in the CBI would have convinced any objective reviewer that the CBI was more than fair in dealing with the cases. But this was not to be.

On January 14, 1980, Indira Gandhi once again assumed office as Prime Minister. Just at that time my name had been processed for the award of the Police Medal for Meritorious Service on the occasion of Republic Day, and had been cleared by the Committee of Secretaries, the Cabinet Secretary and even by Home Minister Zail Singh. The file was then sent to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). It was received back in the Home Ministry on January 24, 1980, with my name scored off with a pen in the PMO. No reason was given for the deletion. I had to wait for five more years till Independence Day, 1985 to get the medal. In the meantime, my juniors in the CBI whose records were admittedly of a lesser standard than mine were awarded the medals.

Soon after Indira Gandhi took over, V.R. Lakshminarayanan of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Police Service, I.C. Dwivedi of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, F.C. Sharma of the Tamil Nadu cadre and various others were summarily and prematurely reverted from the CBI to their parent cadres. J.S. Bawa, junior to Lakshminarayanan, was appointed Director, CBI. Departmental officers of the CBI were transferred to remote places with a view to harassing them for what they did during the three years.

I was also transferred to Calcutta, but Bawa, who was generally a kind-hearted person, later reversed the order of transfer and posted me in Delhi as Superintendent of Police (Training), an innocuous posting away from the mainstream of investigation work. However, my seniority in the rank of Superintendent of Police, which was in force for over a decade, was suddenly reversed by the Government to my detriment. O.P. Sharma, another Superintendent of Police who had been junior to me, was made senior to me. Owing to this, he was promoted in October 1983 to the rank of Deputy Inspector-General of Police whereas I continued to work as Superintendent of Police. In September 1983, I filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the order of the Government reversing my seniority. My writ petition succeeded in 1987 (K. Madhavan vs. Union of India, AIR 1987, SC 2291). It was thereafter that my seniority was restored and I was appointed Deputy Inspector-General of Police in the CBI with retrospective effect from October 1983. Subsequently, the Superintendent of Police who had been made senior to me was caught redhanded accepting a Rs.10-lakh bribe in cash in connection with the Jain hawala case. Upon his house being searched, vast assets disproportionate to his known sources of income were also seized by the CBI. He is now facing prosecution for these charges before the Special Judge, Delhi.

In January 1990, I was entrusted with the investigation of the Bofors case. We quickly registered a First Information Report on January 22, 1990 and within a couple of days I visited Switzerland. I managed legally to persuade the Government of Switzerland to freeze all the Bofors-related bank accounts in that country. It was while doing this that the name of Ottavio Quattrocchi was detected as one of the account holders. This led to his absconding from India and the issue of an arrest warrant against him. Arun Jaitley, then Additional Solicitor-General of India, and Bhure Lal, then Joint Secretary in the PMO, had accompanied me to Switzerland. The investigation begun then is proceeding at a fast pace.

In October 1991, I took a few days' leave to travel south with my family. When we were proceeding to the Mookambika temple at Kollur, en route at Udupi I was amused to read in a national daily that I was not in Delhi and had gone secretly to Switzerland to pursue some bank account. So much so that Margaret Alva, Minister in charge of the CBI, conveyed her suspicion and objection to CBI Director Vijay Karan: I had no business to visit Switzerland while on leave. When I resumed duty on October 21, 1991, a top functionary told me that there was intense political pressure from two political sources in India and a powerful NRI (non-resident Indian) abroad to shift me out of the Bofors case. I was asked if I would protest if that was done. One of the two political forces was then in power at the highest level, the other was hovering on the fringes of politics.

K. Madhavan, former CBI Joint Director.-V. SUDERSHAN

In government, an officer has no choice about his posting. The question I was asked was therefore rhetorical in nature. I had no option but to say that I could not and would not protest. I was shunted out of the Bofors case the same day. Although upset, I took it in my stride.

Then came the securities scam cases in May 1992, in which my team arrested Harshad Mehta and various other brokers and bank officers in Mumbai. I did not realise at that time that the end of my career as a CBI officer was near. In those cases, a particular line of investigation had necessarily to be pursued to verify if bribes had been paid in foreign countries, through the hawala route, to public servants of India. Initially the head of the CBI had agreed that such an investigation should be conducted. However, within ten days he countermanded his approval and desired that the particular line of investigation need not be pursued. The records of the Joint Parliamentary Committee will bear this fact out. While the officer concerned was known to be honest, I learnt that once again political pressure had prevailed. My resistance was of no avail. I had suffered political victimisation off and on from 1980; this seemed the last straw, and I gave up. I served notice on the Government of India on July 20, 1992 for my voluntary retirement three months later. I left the CBI and government service on November 1, 1992, which was two and half years before I was due to retire in the normal course.

Before my voluntary retirement, I had been awarded the President's Police Medal for Distinguished Service on the occasion of Republic Day, 1992. In the CBI as well as in State police forces, after such awards are announced the medals are presented to the officers concerned at a ceremonial function held later. Although the CBI held many such functions between 1992 and 1997, I was never invited to receive the medal. This was during the Congress(I) regime. They could not withdraw the medal also as this can be done only for proven misconduct. At one stage, the medal was sent to me in a brown government envelope through a constable of the CBI and a peon book in which I had to acknowledge receipt. I politely returned the medal to the Director, CBI, stating in a letter that I would like to receive the medal along with other recipients at a proper function. My medal then hibernated in the CBI.

It was only when Joginder Singh took over as Director, CBI, that he reviewed the matter and invited me to a function organised by the agency during the 1997 CBI Conference. It was thus that I received the medal five years after it was awarded, from Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, on whose invitation I delivered a speech. Its main theme was that the CBI should be removed from governmental control and made to function under an independent commission. It is indeed gratifying that under the Central Vigilance Commission Ordinance, 1998, the CBI has been removed from governmental control and placed under the Central Vigilance Commission. While N. Vittal is an excellent choice for the post of Chief Vigilance Commissioner on account of his integrity and firmness (his track record includes resisting the ways of Sukh Ram), as a matter of policy it would be better if future CVCs are carefully selected from among retired High Court judges. Let us hope that when the Ordinance is converted into an Act, this will be done along with certain other necessary changes.

Both my medals took long in coming while other officers received them in due course. I value these medals the more for having won them from the hands of unwilling governments.

I can claim to have personally experienced the ways of politicians and the government when they find officers acting correctly and with courage. Transferring such officers is the easiest option, but not infrequently vigilance enquiries are initiated against such officers. Unfortunately, petitions filed by such officers before the Central Administrative Tribunal, courts and even the Supreme Court do not generally succeed. The normal law in service jurisprudence has been that the transfer of a government officer is an administrative action, and courts rarely interfere in the matter.

It must be noted that in the case of Bezboruah, the reinstatement has come not as a result of any petition filed by him but through a petition filed in the Supreme Court by Dr. Subramanian Swamy as a public interest petition. All the same, the directions given by the Supreme Court in his case are extremely welcome. They will help boost the morale of all honest officers in government. This is a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy bureaucratic scenario.

As I was completing this article, I saw this headline in The Hindustan Times of September 11, 1998: "Congress seeks probe into Bezboruah's transfer". The demand was by Ajit Jogi, spokesman of the All India Congress Committee(I). Well said, Jogi. But while this probe is under way, why not include in its purview the transfers of V.R. Lakshminarayanan, I.C. Dwivedi, N.K. Singh (Police), F.C. Sharma and myself? I can give many more names if Jogi wishes.

K. Madhavan, a former Joint Director, CBI, now practises as a lawyer in Delhi.

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