Time to restructure investigating agencies

November 14, 2018 |


The Special Investigation Team headed by a police officer investigating into the land issues of Vizag has given its report. The terms of reference as could be seen seem to have been so set, that the special investigation team can only enquire into allegations before the present government came into power. Hence by the very terms of reference SIT cannot enquire into any allegations or misdeeds that happened after the present government came to power.

There are a number of land scams that happened in valuable government lands in major cities like Hyderabad and Vizag and this particular aspect of NOCs is but a small portion of much bigger land scams that have taken place with the active connivance and involvement of politicians with different party affiliations. All scams are very secular in nature and there is no point to try to show one particular party as a villain while painting the other as embodiment of virtue.

Briefly the manner in which NOC system works is as follows. First prime government land is alloted to ex -servicemen and freedom fighters with a condition in the allotment that the land cannot be alienated or sold. At a later date, after the allotment the party who got the allotment of land comes with a request to sell the land since he is in dire financial state and the appropriate authority takes a decision to give him the necessary No Objection Certificate to facilitate sale of the land. In these particular cases the appropriate authority designated is the Collector who can give these NOCs and joint collector is collector revenue as per the division of work between the collector and  the joint collector. That is why names of the number of joint collectors who worked during this period at Vizag figure in this list.

Seeds of corruption in the very first place are sown in the policy of allotment itself while allocation of land with restrictions on sale but reserving right to give relaxation to the collectors. If the original allocation itself could have been non-conditional allowing them to sell the land and giving them complete rights all this discretion and associated corruption could have been avoided. It is powers of discretion which breed corruption but all political systems love to keep discretion with them since they would like to be the beneficiaries  of corruption.

When the whole policy is formulated to facilitate corrupt practice why blame a particular official functionary for it? Instead of fixing responsibility on the officers responsibility should be fixed on the government who made the policy of conditional allocation with discretion to relax. In most of these cases the investigating agencies make out a case of procedural violation of not following a particular process or not getting a particular report before granting NOC and call it a criminal offence. They hardly investigate to prove malafide or that officer profited out of this decision.

Coming to the capabilities of the SIT headed by a police officer to investigate such cases I have my own reservations. In a number of occasions I am a witness to these investigating agencies trying to make a criminal offence of a procedural violation. Some of them have a penchant for cheap publicity and indulge in character assassination of officers even when the investigation is in progress.

Vizag itself was witness to one such land case where officers had to suffer in silence for decades just because an overzealous police officer with the blessings of certain constitutional functionary made out a case against them which most of us knew was frivolous but they had to go through that spread over a few decades before they were finally acquitted. Investigating agencies have this tendency of defending once a case is booked even if they realise it’s a frivolous case and keep on taking it to the higher courts in the process harassing the officers. Serious gaps in the competence of these investigating agencies mostly manned by police personnel are becoming obvious while investigating complex cases of financial and administrative nature.

Administration is a process of give-and-take and sometimes officers do oblige the politician just to ensure smooth relationship is established in running the wheels of government. Unless the officer concerned has a track record of corruption or personally profiting out of the decisions made it would be unfair to term them as accused just because there were some procedural violations while taking the decisions.

Now that the premier institutions of investigation like the CBI are also under cloud it is time to seriously address restructuring of these investigating agencies. For long they were operating under a cloud of secrecy with media lapping up their version as the truth. But when we have the heads of these  institution themselves under investigation or found guilty of serious offences is it not time to restructure them so that they become multi-disciplinary in their approach and headed by a competent team drawn from different backgrounds instead of an individual which gives the right mix of abilities and experience to tackle complex cases of money laundering financial embezzlement et cetera. Let us not just make corruption, a criminal issue to be handled only by the police. Corruption is an administrative issue and needs to be handled by removing or curtailing discretion as much as possible.

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