I was in for a rude shock, this morning. An English national daily has carried a small report that one of the accused in the 2001 Operation West End case had been acquitted. The acquittal of former assistant financial adviser to ministry of defence, Narender Singh, came as a shocker. The Indian Express report says: “There is nothing on record to show that Singh had at any point of time given any preference to any person.”
After I conducted the sting operation, it was released by Tehelka news portal on 13 March 2001. I handed over the bribe money to Singh, and the footage of the defence ministry official taking the bribe has been recorded by me. It’s clearly visible in the video footage that he is receiving the bribe for favoring a fictitious company and he is stating his willingness to help out and support the company’s product.
The meeting with Singh was arranged by P. Sasi, another defence ministry official. At this meeting, which is on record, Sasi explains to me why it is important for me to meet Singh. Sasi claimed that for any product to be pushed in the defence ministry, it was crucial to have the blessings of the financial division. It is they who have to find the budget for procuring the product. I had met Singh in his official quarters near Shivaji Stadium in New Delhi.
Before the CBI investigation, Justice Venkatsamy commission of inquiry proved that the tapes were genuine. Following that Justice Phukan commission sent the footage to London to verify the authenticity of the tape. The forensic examination there also proved that the tapes were genuine. It was on the same ground that the then BJP president Bangaru Laxman was convicted for accepting bribe.
After BJP came to power in 2014, the scenario has changed. One after the other, the accused are being acquitted although the proof remains the same.
The CBI had registered 12 cases based on the footage I shot. Eleven of these are still continuing. In the last fifteen years, I have been running from pillar to post. From one court to another, appearing more than 300 times in various courts. But it seems to be in vain now.
I was asked to depose before the Central Vigilance Commission, when the anti-corruption watch dog launched a probe against Singh. He was dismissed from service on the same grounds based on the same evidence.
After the new judge Ramesh Kumar started hearing the case in CBI Special Court in Saket, I noticed something distinctly different about his approach towards me, the prime witness.
I was all of a sudden subjected to unwarranted hostility. My first experience of being short-changed was while appearing in the High Court in the Official Secrets Act case, the same day I was to depose in the CBI court. I submitted a leave application citing my appearance in the High Court. Despite my application for leave, the judge of the CBI court issued an arrest warrant against me, for non-appearance. In the same CBI court, I am the prime witness in 10 other cases.
Every month I have to appear close to 5-6 times in the court in different cases as the prime witness. Even then an arrest warrant was issued for not appearing on a single day.
Once when the court was in session, a 19 year old girl was sitting on the same podium, right beside the judge. While I was giving my statement, the judge was busy talking to her. It looked to me like she was his daughter or maybe a relative. He was engrossed in a domestic issue while presiding over the court, while my deposition was taking place. It reminded me of a Bollywood satire on judiciary.
I travel some 22 kms to the Saket court. The one way taxi fare for this two hour ride is Rs 600. I spend several hours at the court, waiting for the case to be taken up. When the case is taken up, the judge gives little time to the case. On most hearings only a couple of questions are put to me, after which he tells the CBI prosecutor that he is winding up for the day as he has other important work to do. I am asked to leave after having traveled for close to two hours, negotiating long traffic jams. On the dates of the hearings I have to take leave from work, cancel all other engagements if any to attend court. All this was in the hope the guilty would be brought to justice.
One of the accused happens to be RK Jain, former treasurer of Samata Party. For more than 10 days, his senior counsel has been questioning me in court. He doesn’t ask more than 4 or 5 questions and most often he winds up. This is on record. During my cross examination, the judge is engaged in other cases as well and seems least bothered about bringing this particular case to its logical end.
After getting frustrated with the state of affairs, I finally requested the CBI prosecutor, to give me a patient hearing. I pointed out that while I am putting in so much time and effort by appearing in the court and deposing, why is no one else bothered to bring the guilty to justice, other than me? After adjourning the case one day, judge Ramesh Kumar invited the defence lawyer of RK Jain to have a “cup of tea in my personal chamber.”
I once told the court that I am the sole bread winner of my family. The court has been summoning me regularly. But I find it very odd that only four questions are posed to me per hearing. I told them I had to work to earn a living and provide for my family. Frequent appearances in court and with the case moving at snail’s pace it’s causing a lot of inconvenience to me and my family. Instead of summoning me every other day, I requested the court to grant more time to the case when I am called to depose. But the judge and the CBI prosecutor outrightly rejected my plea and the harassment continues. I have serious doubts about whether the judge is looking to book the guilty or put me behind bars.
In the court of Ramesh Kumar, the accused is allowed to sit, while I, the prime witness, is made to stand throughout the proceedings. I found out that the court hears only 3-4 cases daily. Even though he could, he does not allocate much time to this case and winds it up as soon as he can. This makes one wonder if it is a ploy to extend the case?
Tehelka published the Operation Westend report on 13 March 2001. After 5-6 days, CBI booked me for another story I had done four months earlier. The CBI questioned me on where I got all the documents for this story about north-east insurgents getting foreign funds.
The trial court charge-sheeted me, and I was made an accused. In 2013, the case was dismissed by the Delhi High court clearly mentioning that the case had no basis. Accused 1 , 2 and 4 went to High Court but I did not have any money to engage a lawyer to fight my case, my trial was going on in Tees Hazari court. During this time I had undergone a surgery and due to diabetes, the operated part was not healing. I could not even walk, I could not eat food properly. My wife went to Tees Hazri court with my medical records and the doctor’s prescriptions. But the CBI rejected all these and sought my arrest. The court obliged by issuing orders for my arrest. I was arrested and was sent to Tihar jail. My wife moved an application in the court detailing my health condition. The court directed the jail doctor to examine my condition. He gave the report that I am unfit and my health is deteriorating. Only then did the court grant me bail. All this happened after BJP came to power at the centre in 2014.
After this jail stint, I met Raj Kamal Jha, then executive editor of Indian Express. I told him: “These people may arrest me very soon.” The CBI had now started sending summons to present myself at court without giving me exact dates or asking me for my convenience. I put a request to the CBI stating if I come ten times a month to court then no one will keep me in their pay roll, due to long absence from office. The then CBI director A.P. Singh’s response was very telling. “Never do such a thing in your life, this should be a lesson to you. You have to co-operate with us, come when we ask.”
I believe now the CBI is looking at ways to arrest me and harass me so I withdraw from the case. Some officials have even hinted that the decision of arresting me came from higher ups, they were only executing.
It looks like the judge, CBI and the accused are working towards a single goal….that of teaching me a lesson for taking on the system and fighting for long 15 years relentlessly, to bring the corrupt to justice.
The sole aim in this case seems to be to shoot the messenger…To put the witness behind bars instead of those who should be sent to prison for their wrong doings.