It is both thought provoking and inspiring to read the opening sentence of the judgment given by the hon’ble Supreme Court in a PIL pending before it on the matter of recovery of huge Indian wealth and black money stashed sway in the foreign jurisdictions in diverse forms including in banks, trusts and other financial instruments. The opening words ‘follow the money '  the short and simple advice given by the secret informant to the investigator journalist called Bob Woodward in exposing Watergate Scandal is unambiguously applicable to the Indian situation and in fact holds the key to the India’s financial rejuvenation the consequently   recovering her stolen assets and hard earned money hoarded in other countries. The well timed judgment in the matter of constitution of a Special Task Force for fair and independent investigation in the matter is a treat to read and needs to be followed both in letter and spirit without any further loss of time. 

     The context mentioned by the Hon’ble court is more or less applicable to the modern developing societies such as India as no crime whether small or big is possible without the transfer of value or money in some form or the other. The modernization, liberalization and globalization of economy have added another dimension to the complex financial offences in that it has heightened the possibilities of quick wired transfers of illegitimate funds or proceeds of crime across the boundaries of nations with far greater ease and sophistication today.

   
    The instantaneous questions that naturally and logically flow from the foregoing debate are: Why have we failed in the first place to stop the generation of black money in India? what is it that has prevented the recovery of our own money from the foreign jurisdiction which can really go a long way in transforming the face of India if brought back. Why is it that little has been done by the successive political establishments in power in the country? What is it that cripples our vigilance and investigative structures that fail to create deterrence in the corrupt and inspire confidence in the common citizens? Has India turned into a banana state or a failed state with hollow claims of a shining India? Why is it that the state which is responsible for the implementation of its constitutional obligations towards the common people is largely watching the scenario passively and many a times collusively and delivering little on the ground?

   The criminalization of not only politics but also of the bureaucracy and corporate houses has resulted in the unaccounted, unhindered and deliberate accumulation of money and resources in a few hands and subversion of our key institutions and thereby enabling free generation and flow of black money to and from the country into foreign jurisdictions. The desperation for   appointing the tainted and pliable bureaucrats by the political functionaries shows the intentions and attitude of those occupying higher echelons of power and authority. The appointment of PJ Thomas, an officer facing corruption charges to head the anticorruption body reflects the sinister face of the political machinery to have the most malleable figureheads to serve their vested interests at the cost of public justice. In the wake of the all-pervading corruption in high places, the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in case of the PIL on black money and constitution of SIT (Special Investigation Team) reflects a gory picture of the functioning of some key institutions of the state hanging in a state of almost complete breakdown. The investigative agencies and mechanisms have been shamelessly scuttling the very investigations that they are supposing to be undertaking fairly and freely. Instead of displaying the highest ethical and professional standards in the service of the people and the officials are rather choosing to serving the very vested interests which they are mandated to bring to account for. What better description is conceivable of the abysmal prevailing scenario of inaction in the matter related to the black money than the one depicted by the said interim judgment of the Supreme Court in PIL in the matter on India’s Black Money.

    Though the entire judgment has to be seen in totality, however some relevant portions of the judgment are quoted below to highlight the quality of the investigation and the prevailing situation.

    “During the course of the hearings the Union of India repeatedly insisted that the matter involves many jurisdictions, across the globe, and a proper investigation could be accomplished only through the concerted efforts by different law enforcement agencies, both within the Central Government, and also     various  State  governments.  However,  the absence of any satisfactory explanation of the slowness of the pace of investigation, and lack of any credible answers as to why the respondents did not act with respect to those actions that were feasible, and within the ambit of powers of the Enforcement Directorate itself, such as custodial investigation, leads us to conclude that the lack of seriousness in the efforts of the respondents are      contrary  to  the  requirements  of  laws  and constitutional obligations of the Union of India. It was only upon the insistence and intervention of     this Court has the Enforcement Directorate initiated and secured custodial interrogation over Hassan Ali Khan. The Union of India has explicitly acknowledged that there was much to be desired with the manner in which the investigation had proceeded prior to the intervention of this court

    Another extract from the judgment highlighting the investigation and undue haste shown to file the charge sheet without even consulting the High powered committee constituted for the purpose.

  “While it would appear, from the Status Reports
Submitted to this Court, that the Enforcement Directorate has moved in some small measure, the actual facts are not comforting to an appropriate extent. In fact we are not convinced that the situation has changed to the extent that it ought to so as to accept that the investigation would now be conducted with the degree of seriousness that is warranted. According to the Union of India the HLC (High Level Committee) was formed in order to take charge of and direct the entire investigation, and subsequently, the prosecution. In the meanwhile a charge sheet has been filed against Hassan Ali Khan.  Upon inquiry by us as to whether the charge-sheet had been vetted by the HLC, and its inputs secured, the counsel for Union of India were flummoxed. The fact was that the charge-sheet had not been given even for the perusal of the HLC, let alone
 
Securing its inputs, guidance and direction. We are not satisfied by the explanation offered by the Directorate of Enforcement by way of affidavit after the orders were reserved.” 

    It is really amazing to note from the foregoing extract that despite the strict monitoring and constant scanning by the court, the investigative wings did little to inspire confidence even in the highest court of the land. It goes without saying that the investigations on India’s Black Money have serious implications for both internal and external security of our country. Another relevant part of the judgment brings out the state of one of our investigative agencies and perhaps a case of connivance so brilliantly,”

“The named individuals were very much present in the country. Yet, for unknown, and possibly unknowable, though easily surmisable, reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace. Even the named individuals had not yet been questioned with any degree of seriousness.  These are serious lapses, especially when viewed from the perspective of larger issues of security, both internal and external, of the country.For instance, during the continuing interrogation of Hassan Ali Khan and the Tapurias, undertaken for the first time at the behest of this Court, many names of important persons, including leaders of some corporate giants, politically powerful people, and international arms dealers have cropped up.  So far, no significant attempt has been made to investigate and verify the same. This is a further cause for the grave concerns of this Court, and points to the need for continued, effective and day to day monitoring by an SIT constituted by this Court, and acting on behalf, behest and direction of this Court”

The way the Government was opposed to the formation of an SIT (Special Investigation Team) is clearly mirrored in the following portion of the judgment.
“We must express our serious reservations about the responses of the Union of India. In the first instance, during the earlier phases of hearing before      us, the attempts were clearly evasive, confused, or originating in the denial mode. It was only upon being repeatedly pressed by us did the Union of India begin to admit that indeed the investigation was proceeding very slowly. It also became clear to us that in fact the investigation had     completely stalled, in as much as custodial interrogation of Hassan Ali Khan had not even been sought for, even though he was very much resident in India. Further, it also now appears that even though his passport had been impounded, he was able to secure another passport from the RPO in Patna,      possibly with the help or aid of a politician.

   However,  the absence of any satisfactory explanation of the slowness of the pace of investigation, and lack of any credible answers as to why the respondents did not act with respect to those actions that were feasible, and within the ambit of powers of the Enforcement Directorate itself, such as custodial investigation, leads us to conclude that the lack of seriousness in the efforts of the respondents are      contrary  to  the  requirements  of  laws  and constitutional obligations of the Union of India. It was only upon the insistence and intervention of     this Court has the Enforcement Directorate initiated and secured custodial interrogation over Hassan Ali Khan. The Union of India has explicitly acknowledged that there was much to be desired with the manner in which the investigation had proceeded prior to the intervention of this court.”

While it remains to be seen whether the Government officials protecting the hardcore criminals, money launderers, hoarders and acting in collusion in order to shield the offenders are sternly punished for their criminal misconduct and corruption as clearly borne out in the judgment, there is certainly a greater risk of harassment to the whistle blowers in the matter of black money especially in view of the fact that whistle blowers have been constantly persecuted, threatened and even ruthlessly slaughtered in broad daylight in our country. The stakes involved of the perpetrators of the criminal acts and money launderers are high and the criminal-politician-bureaucracy nexus in connivance with the bribe-ridden profit hungry sectors of the corporate world will do anything to frustrate the struggles for recovering India’s hard earned assets and monies hoarded abroad. In this moment of crisis each one of us has a role to play and need to stand united in supporting any positive action not only for getting our hard earned monies back but also demanding severest possible punishments that they dare never to take liberties with the lives and livings of the ordinary Indians.  The entire nation shall remain beholden to the Hon’ble Supreme Court for a momentous judicial intervention and   interim judgment on the issue of constitution of a SIT (Special Investigation Team) for the purpose of investigating all matters connecting with the India’s huge wealth stashed away in foreign jurisdictions.

(The author is an IPS officer and the views expressed here are purely his personal)