The Central Bureau of Investigation’s arrest of its own sub-inspector and a lawyer close to the family of former Maharashtra minister Anil Deshmukh once again raises concerns about what and who it chooses to investigate, and how. The CBI is investigating allegations that as Maharashtra Home Minister, Deshmukh asked police officials to collect bribes from Mumbai’s bars and restaurants. The serious charge of political corruption was made by the controversial former Commissioner of Mumbai Police Param Bir Singh, who also named Sachin Waze as the police official Deshmukh is said to have directed to organise the collections. Singh’s allegation, significantly, came after his own transfer, following Waze’s arrest in the Antilla security scare case. It was on Singh’s plea that the Bombay High Court directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary enquiry (PE) to establish if an offence was made out. Singh himself is now being investigated by the state government.
The CBI’s crackdown last week came after the PE report, which had concluded that no cognizable offence was made out against Deshmukh, became public. The CBI has not denied that report, it has said senior officers overruled the PE, and decided a corruption case was made out against the former minister. That isn’t quite convincing.
The agency needs to come clean given how the noise in this case has been amplified by the grind of several political axes. More so when the head of CBI, Subodh Jaiswal, was Director-General of Police of Maharashtra until December 2020, and his differences with Deshmukh and the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, had become public. He left the state police in the middle of his tenure. It was under him that a senior police officer tapped phones to investigate what she alleged was a cash-for-transfers scam, indirectly implicating Deshmukh. It is unusual that a case is registered when the PE says no offence is made out. Now that this PE is out in the open, the onus is on the agency to address the questions raised. For due process in the case — and for its own credibility.