The recent suicide of BK Bansal, a senior director in the Company Law Board, along with his son has raised many questions. In July, Bansal was ‘caught’ accepting a bribe of Rs 9 lakh, allegedly paid by a pharma company to escape prosecution. The CBI had registered the case and even as Bansal was in custodial interrogation, his wife and daughter committed suicide in their apartment in Delhi and were found hanging from the ceiling fan, strangulated by their saris.
Their suicide note, as reported by the CBI (but not published), referred to the deep anguish and shame of the allegation against Bansal. Two months later, in the same room, Bansal and his son died exactly under the same circumstances, allegedly by hanging themselves. Though the suicide note has not been brought into the public domain yet, it has referred to extreme harassment by the CBI, as reported by the media.
There are so many intriguing elements in the episode that has developed till now. It is unusual, given our flabby agencies and inquiry procedures, and a callous, dilatory, interminable legal system, in which ‘justice’ is seldom the real objective in the procedures, for those against whom these allegations are made resort to suicide. The ‘standard’ reaction of an official accused of taking bribe is usually to ‘influence’ the inquiry process (generally not so difficult in most circumstances given the integrity levels prevalent in most of the national criminal investigation systems, including those at the top); if the matter is not hushed up or suppressed, to ensure that it is sent on orbit, and is in limbo interminably. If it comes to the trial phase, it is made sure that all possible legal shenanigans are brought into play to ensure that the real punishment deserved is defeated.
In Indian conditions, one would hardly expect swift justice to be meted out, compared to the case of Rajat Gupta in the US, where following their investigation/prosecution/justice system, an evidence-based conviction resulted in imprisonment, and included two dismissed appeals all within two years of the incident – surely in India this is a far cry.
Many questions arise on the details of the four suicides: Is what we have witnessed just the tip of the iceberg, and that no major cover-up is taking place?
Until the late 20th century, financial corruption was unknown in the higher administrative echelons, even though intellectual dishonesty was known. It could be recalled that in the 90's, the UP IAS cadre, in a secret ballot, elected the ‘four most corrupt’ officers among themselves. Can anyone recall any professional class anywhere in the world, be it doctors, lawyers, engineers or judges, to have this kind of polls? One dare not include politicians in this class, firstly because it is not a profession, and secondly it will not be easy to locate a single financially upright individual adorning this group.
Of the four ‘elected’, two superseded many others to become the state’s chief secretaries, and the other two failed due to tangential reasons (death or illness) — if this is not a commentary on the evolution, probity and the purpose in the fall in public administration standards, then what is?
Any seasoned administrator knows that in a significant number of cases, the old practice of investigating agencies ‘planting’ false evidence is standard operating procedure. Suffice it to say that the standards in most state governments have fallen precipitously — lack of probity in higher echelons is more the norm, politicisation is the mode, and nearly every decision goes with a quid pro quo; any public interest in decision-making is purely incidental. The standards in the central government have not fallen so steeply; probity and promptness in decision-making indeed has sharply improved in the past two years.
The Bansal family tragedy is clearly a mystery at this stage. Does it portray the steady decline in standards, or was it the shame (deserved or otherwise) of the offense, falsely alleged or willfully wrongly imputed, are questions that need answers. Bansal’s death should not terminate this FIR – this episode should not be allowed to be forgotten. A high-level incisive probe, whose results should be broadcast without delay is imperative.