CBI and integrity rarely go together
Posted March 18, 2014on:
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has some of the best investigators and the agency has done really commendable job in the investigation of crimes. However, when it is assigned a politically sensitive case, its officers from top to bottom compromise their integrity and honesty. At least in Madhya Pradesh the CBI has not handled even a single sensitive case with honesty and efficiency.
The most scandalous and shameful performance of the CBI in Madhya Pradesh was in what had come to be known as the Malik Makbooja case. The agency was not even required to do much investigation but only to collate the evidence and prosecute the culprits. That, though, was the crux of the problem. The culprits included senior IAS officers and political leaders.
The case also saw an IAS officer, having already reached the pinnacle of his career as the chief secretary of the State, stoop low to please the chief minister so that his undeserving wife could get a sinecure in the State Human Rights Commission. Incidentally, the wife drew the house rent allowance from the Human Rights Commission by submitting the house rent receipts signed by none other than her husband with whom she lived in their own house.
Malik Makbooja, narrated in a simple language, was like this: the law prohibits the sale of a tribal’s land to a non-tribal. What the rogues did to circumvent this provision in law in Bastar was to persuade a tribal to sell his land to another chosen tribal. It started like this. “A” was paid a meagre amount of money and made to sell his land to “B”. Both were tribals and poor and illiterate. A certain politician or trader paid a few lakh of rupees to “B” and took, for all practical purposes, the possession of the land. There were 200-300-year-old precious teak trees on the land but the revenue officials had shown the land in the records as barren land, with only a few shrubs. The IAS officials, appointed there as Commissioner, Collector, Assistant Commissioner and in other capacities, as well as the lower level revenue officers, facilitated the illegal transaction. The politician or the trader behind the deal would then cut down the trees and make crores of rupees from the timber. The government officials also benefited from the transaction. This had gone on for decades.
S R Hiremath, president of National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources (NCPNR), who has done a commendable job in the field of environment conservation in Karnataka, got concerned with the plunder of Bastar in the early 1990’s. With the help of Ekata Parishad, which was active in the Chhattisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh, Hiremath approached the Supreme Court through an interlocutory application (No. 60 of 1997) in writ petition No. 202 of 1995, with a prayer to put a check on the wanton destruction of forests and exploitation of poor tribals by a nexus of bureaucrats, politicians and timber merchants in Bastar district which had larger area than that of Kerala State. (It has since been divided into seven districts).
The apex court directed the Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta to get the matter investigated. The Lokayukta constituted a committee comprising retired district and sessions judge R C Sharma (chairman), retired forest secretary to the MP Government Prakash Chandra, and retired Chief Conservator of Forests K.K.R.Naidu. The three-member committee did an excellent job and produced a 236-page report giving precise details of nearly 800 cases: how much the seller of the land was given, how much was paid to the chosen buyer of the land, how much the real person behind the racket made out of the sale of timber on the land and who were the IAS and other revenue department officers involved in the deal and what illegalities they committed.
The committee found no evidence of any organised gang or group of persons or Mafia involved in the illegal activities. It said that the sale and purchase of lands and felling of trees “are being done by different persons of different class and category, whosoever got opportunity, for their individual benefit. Some families have made it their regular business”. It pointed out that the nexus “between the persons, including persons in politics, and the merchants, with local bureaucrats at all levels is apparent. The role of officers is a major factor in promoting these activities which make the task of exploitation of forests standing on private land (Malik Makbooja land) easy, by granting permission to cut the trees, frequently and liberally”.
The Lokayukta submitted the report to the Supreme Court which asked the Madhya Pradesh government of Digvijaya Singh (Chhattisgarh was still part of it) to initiate action against those indicted in the report. The State’s chief secretary K.S.Sharma, however, submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court expressing the State government’s inability to proceed against the Malik Makbooja culprits. In January 1998, a division bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice J.S.Verma, and Justices B.N. Kirpal and V.N. Khare directed the CBI to institute criminal cases against them and prosecute them. The CBI made a big show of registering a few FIRs and the case died down there. (K S Sharma’s wife Shakuntala Sharma was later appointed on the State Human Rights Commission).