CBI now books Manish Sisodia in Delhi ‘snooping’ case
CBI alleged that FBU was “wilfully created, staffed, funded and incentivised out of public exchequer in an irregular manner” and that the unlawful manner of creation and working of the feedback unit
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a fresh corruption case against Delhi’s former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia in connection with allegations that a special feedback unit (FBU) created by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in 2015 illegally snooped on political rivals and government officials.
The first information report (FIR), which names Manish Sisodia and five other officials associated with the feedback unit as suspects, was filed on March 14 (Tuesday) under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act relating to alleged dishonest misappropriation of property, criminal breach of trust by a public servant, forgery for the purpose of cheating, using as genuine a forged document, falsification of accounts, criminal misconduct by a public servant, and criminal conspiracy.
Read | MHA clears CBI probe against Manish Sisodia. They are scared, says AAP
Apart from his other portfolios, Sisodia was then also the minister-in-charge of the vigilance department.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal responded to the news of the FIR with an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “PM’s plan is to slap several false cases against Manish and keep him in custody for a long period. Sad for the country!” Kejriwal said in a post on Twitter.
CBI alleged that FBU was “wilfully created, staffed, funded and incentivised out of public exchequer in an irregular manner” and that the unlawful manner of creation and working of the feedback unit “caused wrongful loss to the government exchequer” to the tune of approximately ₹36 lakh.
Among the five officials named in the FIR is a 1992-batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Sukesh Kumar Jain who was inducted into the city government as secretary of the vigilance department. The other four are Rakesh Kumar Sinha, a retired deputy inspector general (DIG) of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) who worked as special advisor to CM and FBU joint director; Gopal Mohan who was appointed adviser to CM on anti-corruption; Pradeep Kumar Punj, a retired joint director-rank officer of the Intelligence Bureau who worked as FBU’s deputy director; Satish Khetrapal, a former CISF assistant commandant who worked as feedback officer.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA), acting on a recommendation of the lieutenant governor (LG) of Delhi, had last month allowed the CBI to formally investigate Sisodia and others in the matter. While seeking MHA approval, CBI had said in its note that “FBU was functioning for some hidden purpose which was not in the interest of the government of Delhi but the private interest of the Aam Aadmi Party and Manish Sisodia”, who played an active role in the creation of the unit.
CBI first started investigating FBU in December 2016 when it registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) — a precursor to the FIR — following a complaint from the LG’s office in November 2016.
The controversy dates back to 2015 when the AAP won its first full term in Delhi riding on the back of an anti-corruption campaign. The creation of a Feedback Unit, according to CBI’s FIR, was approved by the chief minister of Delhi. Its mandate was to collect relevant information and actionable feedback regarding the working of various departments, autonomous bodies, institutions, entities etc. under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government and to conduct trap cases. The then secretary (vigilance), Sukesh Jain, was directed to submit a detailed proposal to set up FBU and Jain’s detailed proposal was approved on October 28, 2015.
The agency said that Sukesh Jain “deliberately and wilfully” avoided referring the creation of 20 posts in FBU to the Administrative Reforms department for its concurrence.
On January 25, 2016, Sisodia approved a proposal to adjust 20 posts of FBU against 88 posts in the Anti-Corruption Branch of Delhi, CBI alleged, adding that he also allowed special allowance for FBU officers.
According to CBI, no recruitment rules were framed for the FBU posts and 17 retired personnel were recruited to the unit without any approval from the LG.
The unit started functioning on February 1, 2016, with a provision of ₹1 crore under secret service expenditure or SS Fund, according to CBI. It said the FBU probed 700 cases in the eight months of existence -- 60% about vigilance and graft, and 40% related to generating political intelligence and snooping.
“FBU was wilfully created, staffed, funded and incentivised out of public exchequer in an irregular manner by Manish Sisodia and others in violation of rules and regulations and without mandatory approvals, by abuse of their official position and with a dishonest intention to utilize the FBU for purposes other than those for which it was manifestly created,” the agency’s FIR said.
“Further, the officers of FBU - R K Sinha, P K Punj, Satish Khetrapal besides Shri Gopal Mohan, advisor to chief minister conspired to mis-utilize and allow embezzlement of Secret Service Fund besides using staff of FBU for gathering political intelligence,” it added.
The CBI said that RK Sinha, adviser to the CM, was functioning as the joint director and overall in-charge of FBU and the fund allotted to the unit was to be “maintained/utilized under his direct supervision”.
The agency noted that when Shams Afroz, an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in the ACB of Delhi, flagged the issue of improper maintenance of records of expenditure of SSF, deputy secretary (vigilance) K S Meena wrote to RK Sinha directing him to follow guidelines.
“In response, Sinha communicated that Afroz had nothing to do with the operations of FBU and there was no reason for him to furnish details of utilisation of SS Fund to Afroz as FBU was dealing in confidential matters concerned with working of Delhi government, the report of which is submitted directly to the chief minister,” the FIR added.
The agency said it found during its preliminary probe that “in addition to collecting the mandated information, FBU also collected political intelligence/intelligence, which accounted for about 40% of the total reports generated by it, which was beyond the scope and ambit of functions of FBU for which it was manifestly created”.
“It was also further revealed that no formal action was taken against any public servant/department on the basis of vigilance-related reports. Most of the reports were merely initiated and kept pending at the end of PK Punj, Dy Director, FBU without marking the same to vigilance, police or other authorities for necessary action. Thus, the FBU was misused by the concerned five public servants for the purpose other than the one for which it was manifestly created,” the FIR added.
FBU was shut down within months. On September 26, 2016, under the new secretary vigilance Ashwani Kumar, a letter was again sent to RK Sinha requesting details but no report was provided. A note was then moved by KS Meena, deputy secretary vigilance to close down FBU to avoid further “questionable expenditure”.
“On the same day, Ashwani Kumar noted that the Unit needs to be closed down immediately,” CBI said.
People familiar with the development said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also expected to register a money laundering case over the feedback unit
Sisodia is currently lodged in ED custody in connection with the Delhi excise policy-related irregularities. He was first arrested by CBI over the same case on February 26. Sisodia has denied all allegations related to the liquor policy and FBU, and described them as “political vendetta”.