Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has offered some very sound advice to officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is under the direct management of the prime minister.
Jaitley is upset because he believes the CBI action against ICICI Bank is "investigative adventurism", not a "professional investigation".
What is the difference between the two? According to Jaitley, "investigative adventurism involves casting the net too wide, including people with no mens rea (meaning having criminal intent), or even having a common intention to commit an offence, relying on presumptions and surmises with no legally admissible evidence".
In Jaitley's opinion, "adventurism leads to media leaks, ruins reputations and eventually invites strictures and not convictions". "In the process, the targets are ruined because of harassment, loss of reputation and financial costs. It costs people their career," the finance minister said, concerned that this was happening because of the CBI's recklessness. We must commend his concern.
Jaitley may not be serious about what he is saying. We will explain this later, but first let us understand why he is upset.
The fact is that he is right in saying there is legal adventurism in this government. There have been cases where sedition cases have been filed but thrown out of court soon after, becoming nothing but a waste of time and government money.
In the ICICI Bank case, which involves the former chief of the lender Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar for their alleged association with an industrial house, the CBI wants to investigate others. These include the bank's current CEO Sandeep Bakshi; former ICICI Bank executive director K Ramkumar; Goldman Sachs India chairman Sonjoy Chatterjee; managing director and CEO of ICICI Prudential Life NS Kannan; Standard Chartered Bank CEO Zarin Daruwala; Tata Capital head Rajiv Sabharwal; New Development Bank president KV Kamath; and Tata Capital senior advisor Homi Khusrokhan.
According to the FIR filed by the CBI, "the role of these senior officers of the sanctioning committee (that granted loans to Videocon) may also be investigated".
The banking and CEO community is powerful and has access to the government, which is responding to their concerns through Jaitley's blog so the bureaucrats stay away and don't harass them. This community can harm the "business-friendly" reputation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jaitley, and that is why the finance minister, though in a hospital in the US, feels strongly enough about the case to issue a statement.
He had also said: "Professional investigation targets the real accused on the basis of actual and admissible evidences. It rules out fanciful presumptions. There is no personal malice or corruption. It targets the guilty and protects the innocent. It secures convictions and furthers public interest... One of the reasons why our conviction rates are poor is that adventurism and megalomania overtakes our investigators, and professionalism takes a back seat."
I completely agree. Jaitley's problem is that his own finance ministry often violates these 'Lakshman rekhas' he is drawing. Either he does not know what is happening in his own ministry (which I doubt), or Jaitley does not practice what he preaches. This government, and every other government before it, has had and will continue to have antipathy against some of us. That is fine.
But it should be pointed out that disrupting and maligning institutions that have won the Nobel Peace Prize is fine with Jaitley. It is his precious "Ease of Doing Business" index that he is worried about when he warns the CBI on the ICICI Bank case. He should know that investment is attracted to nations that have a rule of law, not just a rule of law for millionaires.
Of course, there must be accountability and responsibility, and the government should refrain from "adventurism" and "megalomania". But this should be true of reckless government action against every Indian, regardless of whether they are wealthy or have access to the finance minister even when he is in hospital. Otherwise it is just hypocrisy.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2019 14:08:12 IST