Two held in two years: Delhi’s Anti Corruption Branch sees step decline in number of arrests
The tussle for control of Delhi’s anti-corruption branch between the elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the office of the lieutenant governor, a central government appointee, seems to have dented the track record of the bureau and raised questions over its functioning.
In the past two years, ACB has arrested just two people, records show. The decline has been steep since 2015 – the year the AAP came to power, promising to fight corruption in public life, and got embroiled in the turf war with the LG’s office.
In 2015, ACB arrested 45 people on corruption charges. The year ago, ACB had arrested seven persons. The number fell to three in 2016, zero in 2017 and two in 2018. Interestingly, out of the 45 arrests in 2015, at least 32 were between April and June when chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had appointed an officer of his choice, additional commissioner SS Yadav, to head the bureau. Within three months of Yadav’s appointment on April 16, he was replaced by the Centre.
Incidentally, the first person ACB arrested in 2017-2018 is Vinay Bansal, the nephew of Kejriwal. The AAP government has alleged that the arrest was part of an effort by the Centre to harass the chief minister. Bansal was held in connection with an alleged Public Works Department fraud that involved submitting fake bills to claim money for construction work.
On Friday, the branch made its second arrest in the past two years. A reader in the court of a metropolitan magistrate was held for allegedly taking a bribe of ₹5,000 from a woman for settling her case.
Records show that the most number of persons arrested -- 121 -- was in 2008. Those held included top bureaucrats, doctors, police officers and engineers. Between 2008 and 2015, over 350 people were arrested.
The turf war over ACB started in July 2015 after Yadav, the Kejriwal-appointed officer, reopened old cases and arrested at least 32 persons within three months, including many central government employees. Within days, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) reminded the state government of a 2014 notification that the bureau could arrest only Delhi government employees.
Records,however, show that between 2008 and 2015, the arrests included those of central government employees such as an Indian Administrative Service officers, assistant commissioners of Delhi Police, inspectors and senior government engineers.
While ACB comes under the state government’s vigilance department, its officers are posted by the Centre through the LG’s office. The ACB chief reports to the Delhi L-G after an administrative order by the MHA that has been contested by the Delhi government in the Supreme Court. Along with the control of services such postings and transfers, this is one of the cases being heard by a two-judge bench of the court. Neither the LG’s office nor the MHA spokesperson wished to comment on the bureau’s performance. The Delhi government spokesperson did not comment.
In the case of Bansal, arrested on May 8, ACB is yet to file a chargesheet. A chargesheet -- a police report detailing the evidence collected and listing witnesses, on the basis of which a court starts trial of an accused person – has to be filed within 90 days of arrest.
Experts say the decline in number of arrests indicates that all may not be well at ACB.
Former Delhi Lokayukta, justice Manmohan Sarin, said: “There were reports of conflict within the department regarding the posting or transfer...When there are internal conflicts, the general public suffers and he crusade against corruption is lost.”?
Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Prakash Singh, who served as the chief of Uttar Pradesh and Assam police and whose public interest litigation led to the SC passing landmark police reforms in 2006, said: “There may be restrictions on officers to follow certain procedures before arresting or filing chargesheets. But even with or without any restrictions, the unit seems dysfunctional.”?
No ACB officer wished to comment on the Bansal case on record. Bansal’s counsel, Mohammed Irshad, said it was a politically motivated case to harass Kejriwal.
“Vinay Bansal was not even been named in the FIR. They have not even filed a chargesheet,” he said, adding that Bansal had been arrested only because he was the son of Surender Bansal, Kejriwal’s brother-in-law. “The FIR was filed to harass the family because they are related to the Delhi chief minister.”
A senior ACB officer, on the condition of anonymity, said, “We are conducting a thorough probe and will file a chargesheet at the appropriate time. We have sufficient evidence against Bansal in the form of fake bills of companies that exist only on paper. We may not have arrested many persons because under the Prevention of Corruption Act, we make arrests only after getting sufficient evidence. Also, understand that these days we cannot arrest officials of the Delhi Police, New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Development Authority and other departments (central government employees).”
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