New Delhi: Amar Pratap Singh, who completes his tenure as director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday, said in an interview that long trials are one reason for delays in conviction. Singh backed the government’s decision to appoint Ranjit Sinha as his successor before the passage of the Lokpal Bill, which recommends that the CBI director be selected by a collegium that includes the leader of the opposition and the Chief Justice of India. The opposition had attacked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for appointing Sinha as the draft law is still pending before Parliament. Edited excerpts:
What are your views on the select committee report on the Lokpal Bill?
We are very much satisfied with the report and all our apprehensions have been addressed. It was CBI which had proposed the collegium system of choosing the new CBI director.
Does it irk you that the CBI director is always targeted by the opposition and it’s alleged that the government interferes in your functioning?
This is not true. We are responsible only to the courts and do not report to any ministry or minister. I am accessible and get representations from all parties and people asking about their grievances. Except me, these people are never allowed to meet any of the investigating officers..., so there is no question of interference of any kind.
Should the government have waited for the passing of the Lokpal Bill before appointing the new director?
The Lokpal Bill has been pending for the last 40 years and it is still pending before Parliament. The government took the right decision in appointing the new director. It is a sensitive position and cannot be left vacant even for a single day.
Your successor has already been targeted by the opposition. Do you think he will be able to discharge his duties with confidence?
He was selected through a Supreme Court-approved process, which is in place for years. He is a senior-most and very seasoned officer. He has already headed two organizations. I don't think there should be any problem.
You say there’s no interference by the Union government in CBI functioning. So how do you explain CBI’s flip-flop on Mulayam Singh and Mayawati before the Supreme Court?
There is a perception that we are arm-twisted by the government. But it is absolutely wrong. The case is in the Supreme Court and during my tenure in the last two years, we have not touched this case. I can’t talk about whatever happened prior to that.
It’s alleged that in the 2G (second-generation spectrum allocation) case, only small players were targeted and the investigation didn’t go higher up the chain.
We have conducted a fair investigation and the case is in the trial court. The matter is also before the Supreme Court, so such apprehensions have no merit.
In the Commonwealth Games case, again the CBI investigation did not go beyond Suresh Kalmadi despite public allegations against others.
Recently, we registered more cases and an investigation is under way.
What is the status of the KG basin case in which Reliance Industries Ltd is facing various allegations? It is alleged that you deliberately didn’t sign the file?
It is a very complicated case so we decided to take the attorney general’s advice. The file has been with him for the last six months.
You recently claimed a 70% conviction rate. But isn’t this because of people who can’t afford costly legal services. High-profile persons hardly get convicted. We have not seen a single politician being convicted so far.
The rate of conviction is slow due to delays in trial. In India, cases go up to 20-25 years. In between the witnesses die or the investigation officer changes. Things do not remain the same. Now we have 71 courts, I think the justice delivery will be faster.
It was a setback for advocates of transparency when you moved CBI out of the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI). How do you justify this?
I feel that the decision was right. This route was misused by mainly the accused to get information about CBI investigations. In our system, every investigating officer from bottom to top writes about his opinion of a case. If CBI was not kept out of RTI, then every officer would have a unanimous view about the particular case investigated by them. The officers would not have freely expressed their views with a fear of being targeted.
Do you think the time has come for CBI to reform?
We are working towards making CBI a multi-disciplinary agency where experts from all fields will be taken on deputation.