Run, CBI, run, it looks like a Diwali gift

Rattled by scandal, some officers shun festival custom

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 8.11.18, 2:05 AM
  • Updated 8.11.18, 8:30 AM
  • 2 mins read
CBI officers are believed to have declined Diwali gifts even from friends and relatives. Telegraph picture

When in doubt, decline — even if it’s a Diwali gift.

Bribery allegations against the top two in the CBI have unnerved officers in the agency so much that many decided not to accept Diwali gifts even from their friends and relatives, sources said.

Not without reason. A few years ago, the names of some CBI officers were found in a ledger of a company and there were suggestions that the entries stood for Diwali and New Year “gifts”. But a CBI internal probe found no evidence against any officer.

“Like many others, giving and accepting gifts on Diwali from friends and relatives had become a tradition and custom for CBI officers, too. But this Diwali, many are reluctant to accept gifts, given the tricky situation. Many officers have friends who are businessmen or officials working in private companies and they have told them not to send any gifts, not even sweets,” said a CBI officer.

Officers usually receive sweets, dry fruits and artefacts from their friends and acquaintances on Diwali. “This time, everyone is wary of accepting any gift from anywhere, even if it is from a relative,” the officer said.

Last month, the agency had booked its special director Rakesh Asthana for allegedly accepting bribes from a businessman to help him get relief in a case and arrested its DSP in the same case. The special director had in turn alleged that director Alok Verma had taken a bribe from the same businessmen. Both the top officers are now under probe.

“With little bursting of crackers following the Supreme Court order and now the reluctance on accepting gifts from friends and relatives, the festival of lights has become a lacklustre event for us,” rued another agency officer.

Under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), the acceptance of any form of pecuniary gratification can invite criminal penalties for both the public servant as well as the benefactor.

According to M.S. Khan, a trial court lawyer in Delhi, giving a gift is not illegal under law. “But under the PCA what separates a gift from a bribe is whether it is given with an expectation of a quid pro quo. If it is given with a corrupt intent, the gift becomes a bribe,” he said.

A CBI officer recounted how the agency had courted controversy in 2012 when it was told about entries in the account ledger of the private company which mentioned payments of Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 as gifts to some CBI officers on Diwali and New Year.

The agency had then ordered an internal probe to find out whether the officers whose names were mentioned had accepted the gifts.

The account ledger of the private company was seized during a raid by income tax sleuths at its Delhi office in 2010. The tax department had stumbled on the entries later and forwarded the information to the CBI top brass in 2012 for an internal probe.

“Entries in the same register had suggested that the money was used to buy small gifts such as dry fruits for some officials. The internal probe could not find any evidence against officers whose names were mentioned in the ledger,” said an officer.

Delhi police had issued an order last week directing all officers and subordinates to ensure that during Diwali, no one reaches their seniors’ homes “with or without gifts or flowers”.

The circular issued by police commissioner Amulya Patnaik mentioned that “all officers/men are directed not to visit any of their senior officers, with or without gifts or even flower bouquets, on the occasion of Diwali. Contravention of above instructions would be viewed adversely”.

An IPS officer said: “The circular was issued last year too. Visiting houses of senior officers with gifts on Diwali has been a common practice in the force in the past years and it is done to please seniors to get lucrative postings. This step has been taken to discourage the practice.”