Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Needless interference

After damaging the credibility and prestige of the country’s premier investigating agency two months ago with a highly politicised row involving the head of the organization and his deputy, the BJP government has successfully and completely decimated its image by stirring another row with the dismal of an investigating officer following union finance minister, Arun Jaitley’s displeasure over the probe in ICICI Bank loan case. The image of the CBI, whose credibility no doubt has been dented for decades because of the tendency of successive governments to use the investigating agency for witch-hunting and political gains, has never been so badly jolted as it is under the present dispensation, whose appetite for controlling the institution and destroying its autonomy is far more brazen and throws all norms and propriety to winds. CBI was caught in a row earlier after it filed an FIR on the Rafale deal in which prime minister’s office and a corporate house is involved. In this instance, it is former ICICI boss Chanda Kochhar, her husband Deepak Kochhar and Venugopal Dhoot, the head of the Videocon group. Dhoot is accused of transferring a majority of the loan amount he received from the ICICI bank in 2012, a total of Rs 3250 crores to Nupower, a company owned by Deepak Kochhar and two of his relatives. The circumstances have revealed the government’s penchant for interfering in the due process of the probe. While the investigating CBI officer was transferred without an explanation, the union finance minister Arun Jaitley went out of his way in calling the entire probe “adventurism”. Though investigating agencies are not above the board and their functioning is under the scanner and thus open to criticism, such remarks coming from a sitting minister who is supposed to stand up and defend the actions of government institutions only make a case of interference and obfuscates the chances of a fair probe. The fresh row confirms two things. One that the Modi government is leaving no stone unturned in hampering the autonomy of the CBI through constant interference in its bid to cover up scams in which corporate honchos or their own people are involved. This government’s record show, it does not hesitate in trampling over public institutions if doing so meets its petty objectives. Secondly, it shows the extra mile that the government is willing to walk in saving the necks of the rich business elite and brazenly reveals the existing nexus, which has already been witnessed in some favoured cases of massive loan waivers, questionable deals and bank frauds in which there are suspicions that the government facilitated the flight of people like Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi from the country. The ICICI Bank alleged fraud first came to light when one of the shareholders blew the whistle on a series of transactions. Interestingly, the two letters he wrote to the prime minister in 2016 and 2017, detailing how net profits of the ICICI Bank had declined and its bad loans had been increasing, had fallen on deaf ears, further arouses suspicion of either inefficiency and apathy or a deliberate nexus. If that is not the case, it is important that not only the union finance minister makes a clarification with respect to his remarks but also the government needs to ensure that CBI can conduct its probe without any interference. This BJP government came to power in 2014 by raking up the corruption issue in a big way. It must now live up to its promise of at least ensuring fair and transparent probes and trials in the corruption cases that are emerging.