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Making Criminal Justice Work
by Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share
 

Madhava Menon Committee may be Ineffective

The Madhava Menon Committee on the National Criminal Justice Policy released its report last week. For proper assessment, the report deserves careful study. But one proposal invites immediate comment. The report has suggested that crimes relating to internal security be classified as federal crimes. It considers such crimes too complex for effective handling by existing law enforcement agencies. It recommends therefore: 'The National Criminal Justice Policy should conceive legislative provision on federal crime and the need for a federal agency to enforce it.' 

This suggestion was overdue. But there is a serious catch. In practice, would the proposed federal agency prove effective? The CBI is a national investigative agency dealing with major cases. Its performance has until now been abysmal. Forget corruption cases; its record in dealing with the biggest crimes involving national security has been scandalous. To understand why this is so, and what the proposed federal agency must overcome for success, a few of the more high-profile terrorist crimes need to be recalled. 

In India members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are most high-profile. Less than thirty years ago three members of the dynasty died violently � within a single decade. Consider their deaths and the unconvincing conclusions from the investigations. It may show why a federal agency is unlikely to succeed in the prevailing system.

Sanjay Gandhi died early morning while flying his small twin-engine aircraft. It is mandatory for the Director-General Civil Aviation (DGCA) to order a probe into all air accidents. A one-man Commission of Inquiry was set up under Justice ML Jain. Several theories arose about the crash. It was speculated that a loose nut of the plane�s tail-rotor detached the tail to make the plane crash. Another theory suggested that the fuel tank was empty but that the fuel indicator needle failed to show it. Foul play and sabotage were not dismissed. But, inexplicably, Mrs. Indira Gandhi intervened and aborted the Commission � in violation of law. I asked Justice Jain why and how this was done. He confessed puzzlement because he was offered no explanation.

The late CPN Singh, Minister of State for defence production, was shocked by the decision. He approached the late AP Sharma, cabinet minister for Civil Aviation, for an explanation. Sharma expressed helplessness and advised him to ask Mrs. Gandhi. Singh then approached Mrs. Gandhi and asked why the Commission had been wound up. According to him Mrs. Gandhi became very emotional. We do not know if he ever received a satisfactory explanation. We cannot know now because during that decade CPN Singh was murdered.

The late Madhav Rao Scindia was scheduled to accompany Sanjay on that fateful early morning flight. But he overslept and failed to turn up. A short while after the plane crash, in the presence of a mutual friend, I mentioned to Scindia that many eyebrows were raised over his non-appearance for the flight. Scindia was visibly embarrassed. But he did not deny that he was expected to fly with Sanjay. Oversleeping resulted in providential escape. Unfortunately, Scindia�s promising political career was cut short by his own death in another plane crash.

Indira Gandhi�s assassination has been written about earlier. The probe findings were quite unconvincing. To enable Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, the Sikh guards who shot her, to be present when Indira Gandhi came out of her house for a TV interview with famous actor Peter Ustinov, the timings of their guard duty had been altered. The guard duty roster was in the custody of Indira Gandhi�s secretary, RK Dhawan. Dhawan could have disclosed, perhaps, whose handwriting it was that altered the duty timing of Beant and Satwant.

In the first FIR lodged with the police, Beant, just before the shooting, reportedly shouted to Satwant to ensure that no harm came to Dhawan. Beant and Satwant surrendered their weapons after the shooting. Approximately 40 minutes later they were shot in cold blood by the Tibetan Security Police guards, on the same premises. While Beant Singh got killed, Satwant was critically wounded. Nobody was prosecuted for ordering their murder. Beant could have revealed the conspiracy behind the assassination.

The Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry set up to probe Indira Gandhi�s assassination recommended a separate probe for the conspiracy angle behind the assassination. The Thakkar Report stated that the �needle of suspicion� pointed at Dhawan for complicity in the conspiracy. Dhawan was in the political doghouse after Indira Gandhi�s death. But later Rajiv Gandhi rehabilitated him. Justice Thakkar went on to become Chairman of the Law Commission. By a strange quirk both the accuser and the accused were promoted by the slain victim�s son.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. A woman suicide bomber, Dhanu, blew up herself and Rajiv Gandhi during a public function in Sriperumbudur, Chennai. Security officials have congratulated themselves for successfully nailing LTTE for the murder. DR Kaarthikeyan, former CBI director who headed the Special Investigative Team (SIT), wrote a whole book describing the triumph of his investigation.

However, very recently Major Ravi, the officer who led the commando team to capture Sivarasan, leader of the LTTE killer squad, claimed that for one whole week Kaarthikeyan prevented him from nabbing his quarry. Inexplicably, the CBI chief disallowed action until allegedly his delayed arrival from neighboring Andhra. That enabled Sivarasan to commit suicide. The chance to extract information from him was lost. Major Ravi has made a film about his experience.

Former RAW Additional Secretary B Raman in his new book, The Kaoboys of R&AW, commenting on the assassination wrote: �The prevailing view was that he (Rajiv Gandhi) had fallen a tragic victim to the factional politics in the Tamil Nadu Congress . . . . It was only after a video-recording . . . everybody accepted that it was the LTTE which had assassinated him.�

But why should LTTE�s hand in the murder preclude collusion of local politicians? Dhanu, Rajiv�s suicide bomber, was a tenant of a senior Congress leader. When Dhanu went to kill Rajiv Gandhi she was accompanied by the Congress leader�s daughter who later became a Congress MLA. Did the SIT probe how the suicide bomber succeeded in penetrating the Congress party circle? It might be noted that the deaths of all three members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty were investigated under Congress governments.

Experience shows that no investigation of high-profile cases can succeed unless investigators are insulated from politicians. That has been the recurring tragedy of the CBI. Big crimes can embarrass big people. So, how will the proposed federal agency overcome this problem? To what authority will it be responsible to ensure impartial and fearless investigation? This raises fundamental constitutional questions that the Madhava Menon Committee could not possibly address.   

8-Aug-2007
More by :  Rajinder Puri
 
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