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Is CBI poised to catch big fish in Jammu and Kashmir?

Is CBI poised to catch big fish in Jammu and Kashmir?

While the erstwhile State’s own Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has completed investigation or filed charge sheets in a number of the matters lingering since long in the last three years, the Central investigation agencies have been remarkably proactive in Jammu and Kashmir after its reorganisation in August 2019.

Unlike the Central agencies, most of the ACB’s cases pertain to the alleged corrupt practices of the junior public servants. Very few of the senior J&K Administrative Service (JKAS) and IAS or IPS officers have been proceeded against, primarily for the fact that they happen to be either batch mates or seniors of the top functionaries of the organisation. In recent times, this is believed to be the main reason for the transfer of some high profile investigations, under judicial or administrative orders, from the ACB to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The ACB’s investigations into the encroachments and illegal constructions in the area of PatniTop Development Authority and the so-called Roshni Scam involved influential persons who, the judiciary endorsed, would fail the process. Previously, a high profile case related to alleged embezzlement of the J&K Cricket Association (JKCA) funds was transferred under court orders from J&K Police to the CBI.

However, three more high profile investigations—alleged irregularities in the allotment of civil works of the Kiru Hydroelectric power project, a healthcare insurance scheme for the government employees and the purchase of a multi-floor property in Mumbai by the Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd (JKB), allegedly in violation of the codal formalities and for exorbitant price—were transferred to the CBI directly under the Lieutenant Governor’s orders.

While the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have remained particularly focussed on the matters related to the armed insurgency, terror funding and money laundering, the CBI is dealing with all—Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping, killing of Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel, JKCA fund scam and other corruption-related matters involving former Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers and chairpersons of the JKB.

The chain of search operations by the CBI in Srinagar, Jammu and Mumbai on Tuesday, 10 April 2022, has apparently added a new dimension to the agency’s seriousness of investigation in the politically sensitive Union Territory. Previously the Central agencies had called for questioning the former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti’s mother.

However, on 10 April, it was for the first time that the CBI searched the residences of someone who was not only the architect of the BJP’s coalition with the PDP in March 2015 but also the highest profile Minister of Finance in Mufti Sayeed’s and Mehbooba Mufti’s government for 3 years. These came close on the heels of CBI’s raids on the residences of powerful persons including a senior IAS officer allegedly involved in two cases.

Haseeb Drabu, who has not been in active politics after his dismissal in Mehbooba’s government coupled with his exit from the PDP in March 2018, is in the CBI dragnet for his supervision of the Bandra Kurla Complex acquisition in 2010 when he was the JKB’s Chairman. He is also an accused in the medical insurance scheme in 2017-18 when he was the Minister of Finance. He and his family members also figure in a list of the high profile politicians who have allegedly been beneficiaries of the controversial Roshni Scheme. The CBI has taken over the Roshni investigation and questioned some persons but a number of powerful bureaucrats and politicians, including Drabu, have not been touched till date.

In Mufti’s government, Drabu was in profile and importance next only to the Chief Minister. Believed to be intimate to the BJP and the RSS leadership, he had direct access to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The CBI raid on his house, which would normally never happen without a green signal from the highest echelons of power in New Delhi, has made it clear to all powerful politicians and bureaucrats that the agency was not going to spare anybody.

Notwithstanding considerable cynicism and scepticism in J&K, where every single operation by the Central agencies is seen as ‘drama’ and ‘fixed match’, many of the former ruling politicians and bureaucrats have begun to feel the heat. The much sustained impression of ‘political vendetta’ against PDP and NC has begun to dissipate as Drabu didn’t belong to either. For a long time, he was in fact seen as Delhi’s man in Srinagar. Days to come may make clearer whether the raids would lead CBI’s investigation to a logical conclusion or the same were only tactics to terrorise Kashmir’s intractable politicians.

Some Central agencies, including the CBI, have been facing a trust deficit and loss of institutional credibility in Kashmir for varied reasons. There has been no explanation to the 30-year-long delay in the prosecution in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping and the IAF killings cases. The CBI, which submitted the charge sheet in a designated TADA court in 1990, did not do anything to vacate the stay on the trial for 10 years from 2009 to 2019.

Most of the accused in the infamous Srinagar Sex Scandal got off the hook as CBI’s key witnesses turned conveniently hostile in the trial court at Chandigarh.  For 12 years, there has been no substantial progress in prosecution in the alleged rape-cum-murder of two young women in Shopian which the CBI established as a ‘conspiracy to defame the security forces’ and filed charges against 13 persons including 10 doctors and lawyers in 2009. Even the landmark investigation in the Pathribal fake encounter failed due to the Army's resistance in the Supreme Court.  

Even as the prosecution sanction against the JKAS officers has been issued quickly in some high profile cases, the same has been pending in case of a number of IAS officers at the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) since long.

Nevertheless, there have been remarkable developments in the last couple of years. It is for the first time that questioning of highly influential government functionaries or raids on their residences have taken place. They include six IAS officers—one Principal Secretary to Government, one Commissioner-Secretary, one Secretary to Government and two officers of the rank of Additional Secretary. They also include three chairpersons and four directors of the JKB. One former Mumbai-based director on board has been arrested and detained. Previously the CBI’s big catches were only in the Srinagar Sex Scandal in 2006—oneJ& Principal Secretary rank officer, two ex-Ministers, one DIG of BSF.

Admitting the clichéd caveat that every accused is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, let us be optimistic and appreciate all indications of seriousness and quality investigation from the CBI and other Central agencies in all J&K related cases.

Also Read: Is Omar Abdullah in trouble after he was quizzed on J&K bank's Mumbai property purchase?