New Delhi: About four years ago, Delhi’s top anti-corruption body received a call every evening for six months. The person on the other side was a sub-divisional officer (SDO), who spoke in slurred words and broken sentences, accusing his seniors of corruption.
Asked to come to the agency’s office with evidence, the SDO never responded.
After a probe by an investigating officer of the agency who spoke to ThePrint, it turned out that the SDO was hounding them simply because he was unhappy that he had been passed over for a promotion. Subsequently, he was blacklisted by the agency.
While the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government were fighting it out for control of Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the agency was waging a battle of its own — against frivolous cases.
In the last four years — between 2015 and 31 January 2019 — the ACB received 532 complaints that fell within its purview. The agency received an additional 496 complaints that were forwarded to other departments for further investigation, an RTI filed by ThePrint revealed.
Of the 532 complaints, 334 were disposed of while 170 are pending enquiry. In the remaining 28 cases, a first information report (FIR) was registered.
The complaints that were received were mostly against government officials, but occasionally included legislators too. The agency, in its response, however declined to provide status details of each of these cases.
The reasons for disposing of the cases included lack of evidence, baseless allegations, being unrelated to the department, and often, because they were motivated, said the ACB in its response.
Of serial extortionists and phone calls from Chennai
In his year-and-a-half-long stint at the ACB, the investigating officer (IO) who did not want to be named said he feels like he’s seen it all.
“Across the city, especially in areas like Mehrauli, there are people who have made a career out of extorting others,” he said.
These ‘serial extortionists’ have no qualms in filing bogus complaints.
“Most of the times, it’s either against the revenue department officials, or those working in the construction department,” he said.
If the ACB turns them away, these “extortionists” head to the Delhi High Court, threatening the officials they have accused of corruption to either pay up or they won’t withdraw the complaint, said the IO.
In one such instance, after a number of faux cases had been filed by a person in 2018, the ACB forwarded his details to the Delhi Police. He is currently under investigation for running an extortion racket.
“When we confronted him on why does this, he said it’s his job,” the IO added.
Another official working at the ACB is “baffled” by how few people understand what the anti-graft body actually does. The agency’s contact details are available on the internet and this has led to a horde of unrelated complaints coming their way.
“People call us from Chennai,” the second official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“It’s bad enough that they’re calling a different city, but the cases are normally regarding strangers hacking into their bank accounts and stealing all their money.”
According to a 2014 notification issued by the union home ministry, the ACB’s purview only extends to cases of corruption in the Delhi government. For an FIR to be registered, the complainant has to provide proof of demand and acceptance of a bribe.
“We also get fake cases, like inter-department rivalries,” the IO told ThePrint. “The complainant in such cases is only trying to settle a score.”
‘PoC Act toothless now’
Not just the frivolous ones, at times complaints are dropped because the complainant cannot cope with the rigmarole.
“The process is such that people give up,” said the IO.
“You file a complaint that an officer asked for a Rs 2,000 bribe, then you have go through the lengthy legal process. People often give up,” he said.
Then there’s the caveat that’s borne from the Prevent of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018. The amendment made it mandatory for all anti-graft bodies to obtain permission from respective government departments if they want to investigate a public official.
“We have written to the Delhi Public Works Department so many times for permission to investigate some of their officials. Although they are supposed to respond within a month, we have been waiting for three months for a reply in three cases,” a third ACB offical told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
Since there is no provision for this under the Act, when permission is not obtained for long periods of time, the cases go into cold storage, said the third official.
“The PoC is a toothless Act now,” he added.
Bone of contention
The AAP-led Delhi government and the BJP-led Centre have been at loggerheads over the anti-graft body ever since the former came to power in 2015.
While technically the ACB falls under the Delhi government’s vigilance department, its officials are posted through the Delhi Lieutenant Governor’s office.
In 2014, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered FIRs against two UPA ministers — M. Veerappa Moily and Murli Deora — and Reliance Industries Ltd chief Mukesh Ambani for their alleged involvement in the Reliance-Krishna Godavari scam.
His order came under a 1993 central government notification that allowed the ACB to investigate officers in Delhi, irrespective of who was involved.
The Modi government, however, amended that notification in July 2014, soon after coming to power, taking away the ACB’s power to probe central government officials.
Almost a year later, even Delhi Police and Delhi Development Authority were taken out of ACB’s investigative ambit.
The Modi government also empowered the L-G to appoint bureaucrats in the capital.
The AAP government moved the Delhi high court to challenge the decision in May 2015. The high court ruled the same year that the Delhi government had jurisdiction to arrest policemen.
The Modi government challenged the high court’s decision.
Last year, in June, a five-judge constitution bench had ruled that the Delhi government did not require the concurrence of the L-G except on matters regarding Land, Home and Public Order.
Finally, last month, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the ACB remains with the Centre. However, the issue of Service appointments has been referred to a larger bench.