61 probe requests by CBI in graft cases still pending: Data
An amendment in the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act four years ago, to insert section 17A and make it mandatory for agencies to seek prior permission before initiating corruption probes against public servants, appears to be turning into a hurdle for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the premier anti-corruption agency.
According to data accessed by HT, at least 60 requests of the CBI against 130 public servants under section 17A have been pending with various ministries and departments, including public sector banks and public sector units since 2018.
Most requests – 21 out of a total of 61 requests – sent by the central agency are pending with various banks who, CBI officials allege, do not cooperate with the agency. Canara Bank tops the list with seven such requests pending before it, followed by Indian Bank (six), Punjab National Bank (five), Central Bank of India (two) and Union Bank of India (one).
“On one hand, the banks send us complaints against defaulters, as per directives of the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI). On the other hand, they sit on our requests for prior permission to initiate a probe, or prosecution sanction to file a charge sheet. They basically use the CBI as a strongman to scare defaulters so that their money is recovered without penal action,” a CBI officer said, requesting anonymity.
Other departments, ministries or state governments which haven’t so far responded to CBI’s letters seeking probe against their employees are the Delhi government, which has three requests against eight public servants, department of personnel and training (DoPT), department of revenue, department of financial services, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Union ministries of defence, communication, railways, civil aviation, education, health and family welfare, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan governments, Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and Delhi high court, among others, data showed.
Majority of these requests have been lying with the concerned departments for over a year and in a few cases, for more than three years. This is despite section 17A making it mandatory for the ‘concerned authority’ to convey its decision, approval or denial, within three months of issuance of a CBI request, which can be extended by only one month.
Section 17A was brought in by the Centre through an amendment in the PC Act in July 2018, making it mandatory for police or CBI to seek previous approval for conducting any “enquiry” or “inquiry” or “investigation” into any corruption-related offence.
It was introduced to bring an additional layer of due diligence after several bureaucrats complained that they were not able to take bona fide decisions due to the fear of probe agencies.
However, officials believe the amendment has proven to be an additional hindrance for the CBI, which already faces resistance from various states in carrying out investigations in their jurisdictions.
In March this year, the Union government informed Parliament that under section 6 of Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 173 requests of the CBI were pending with nine states that have forbidden the agency from taking up any new probes in their territory. These states are Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Section 6 of DSPE Act empowers state governments to give a general consent to the CBI for corruption probes.
“Section 17A has taken away the surprise element from corruption probes. Then, there is another hurdle that CBI usually faces is section 19 of the PC Act, under which the concerned government department has to be mandatorily approached before filing a charge sheet against a public servant,” a second officer said, seeking anonymity.
As of February 2022, CBI’s requests seeking prosecution sanction under section 19 were pending in 66 cases against over 300 public servants.
“The country’s primary anti-corruption agency has its hands tied completely,” the second officer said.