When the going gets tough, let the evidence play hooky. The coal scam isn’t the only case in which key files have gone missing, forcing the judiciary and investigating agencies to grope in the dark for leads.
Several CBI officers claim that files have mysteriously gone missing in several other high-profile cases to delay or scuttle probes against political bigwigs.
A scrutiny by dna reveals that there have been attempts to misplace key files of scams like the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), the 2G spectrum allocations and the Uttar Pradesh National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), and even of the Ayodhya dispute.
“The CBI faces such a problem in every high-profile case. Rather than destruction of evidence, it is more a delaying tactic by the department concerned,” reveals a top CBI official.
While the probe into the CWG scam was on, key documents and files on budgetary allocations and details of tenders that were awarded went missing from the organising committee’s office of the Games in Delhi. The CBI, along with the enforcement directorate and the income tax department, was probing 58 cases.
The CBI registered 15 FIRs related to bribery and irregularities in projects carried out by various agencies in the run-up to the mega sporting extravaganza.
Of these 15, the CBI filed charge sheets in five; the rest are still being investigated. “We still require some documents. And we’re waiting for a reply to the letter rogatory sent to various countries [involved],” explains an officer involved in the probe.
Likewise went missing some documents from the finance ministry on the fixing of 2G spectrum price. Some files from the department of telecom, too, went this way, claims an investigator probing the 2G scam. Despite this, the CBI managed to file a charge sheet in the case, which is under trial in a Delhi court.
Another CBI official goes further down memory lane. He says the agency faced missing files problems while investigating the fodder scam in Bihar, which dates back to the late 1990s, involving former chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
“We had to shuttle between various departments of the Bihar government to get access to files related to the scam. And, I still remember, most of the time, we were told that files were untraceable. It was purely a delaying tactic,” says the officer who was part of the probe.
In the Uttar Pradesh NRHM scam, investigators probing ministers of the Mayawati government were denied access to documents of the state government.
Similarly, in the Ayodhya dispute case, about 23 key files on the land deed went missing from the state government.
After the probe, the CBI concluded that six files were dumped in the record room. The files had also gone missing in 2000 after an officer on special duty, who was carrying the dossiers to Delhi from Lucknow, died in a train accident.
But proving foul play into the files going missing is easier said that done. “First, we need to establish that it was a deliberate destruction of evidence or a negligence by the record-keeper of the department or ministry concerned. And, if we the ministry is sure that files are missing, it should go and file an FIR. But I can not recall any instance when a department lodged a police complaint,” says Joginder Singh, former CBI chief.
“A CBI officer is not welcomed by anyone in any state government department. They (government officials) are not keen on sharing their official files. Many times they go to the extent of claiming that files are untraceable. We need to look into whether they are trying to mislead the probe or scuttle it,” suggests Singh.