The incident relates to trapping of an innocent Bank officer by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on charges of accepting bribe and how he was absolved of the charge. But before proceeding further, I would like to tell you the background of the case, as under:
A person availed a loan amounting to Rs. 3.00 lacs for the purpose of starting a goat rearing unit more than six years back. After an initial disbursement of Rs.10000/- for constructing a shed, no further disbursement took place. The reason(s) for non- disbursement though could not concretely ascertained, it was gathered, lately, that the then Branch Manager (BM) came to know about the impersonation of the guarantor to the loan. It is alleged that while the guarantor was the father of the borrower, the guarantee agreement was signed by his father-in-law. (The matter is under investigation. However, the fact remains that it has nothing to do with the trapping of another Branch Manager.) The activity got abandoned and loan account became a Non Performing Asset (NPA) as the amount disbursed was not repaid by the borrower. Meanwhile, the outstanding amount increased partly due to interest and partly on account of charges levied for initiating recovery process. To cut the long story short, the BM, with whom the unfortunate incident happened, also started making efforts to recover NPAs (including the aforesaid account) as the branch was grappling with a huge NPA portfolio. His efforts started yielding results and in the process, some amount was recovered in the above mentioned account as well. Probably, that could be the reason for the next episode and thereafter.
One day when the BM was getting ready to leave for office (He was staying at a distance of a few kilometres away from the Branch.), he got a call from an unknown number. The person at the other end was talking in Odia (as the place of occurrence was in Odisha). The English translation of the discussion (as gathered from the BM) was as under:
“Sir, I am such and such from such village. Other day, I have deposited some money in my loan account. Today, I want to deposit some amount. But going to bank will be difficult as I have some works. I shall give the amount to you while you will be going to office. I shall be standing on such and such place for you.”
When the BM told him that he was not carrying any deposit slip with him, the person told him, “I shall take it subsequently”. The BM agreed to his request as the loan was long overdue. He was travelling by Bank’s hired vehicle and was accompanied by driver and canteen boy. As decided earlier, he stopped at the appointed site and was waiting for the person. Soon the person arrived there and handed over the money to him. He counted the money and was about to put the same in his pocket but at that very moment, it seemed to him that heaven was let loose on him. He was trapped by CBI team red handed on charges of taking bribe and he was taken to the custody. After a few days, he was granted bail from the custody of CBI.
CBI then wanted to prosecute him and to that end, they sought the permission of the Appointing Authority (AA) of the Bank (General Manager of the Network in this case). The AA, however, did not give the permission on the following grounds:
- It was a simple case of trapping based on the complaint made by a defaulter borrower and as such, the logic for demanding and accepting bribe was totally missing.
- It was a Non Performing Asset for the last more than 5 years and long overdue and nobody had the authority to revive it.
- It is a normal practice that bankers accept money while on the move for depositing the same in deposit / loan accounts. In this case also, the BM accepted the money for deposing the same to the borrower’s loan account on way to office with the understanding that receipt would be given subsequently as he was not carrying any pay – in –slip with him.
- In all, the basic consideration of giving and accepting bribe was absent in the case.
But the CBI did not agree with the contention of the AA and again insisted on necessary go ahead permission from the Bank. By that time, there was already a change in the incumbency of AA. Incidentally, I took over the charge from the earlier AA who was there at the material period when the trapping took place. After going through the papers, I also dittoed the views of the earlier AA while sending the response to CBI. We thought that CBI would be in agreement with our views and drop the idea of prosecuting the already harassed officer but they did not accept our views and as per extant guidelines, the matter reached Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), New Delhi for holding a conciliatory meeting involving both the parties viz. CBI and Bank officials.
On the appointed day, the Bank was represented by me (Our Chief Vigilance Officer was also there.) and CBI was represented by the Addl. Superintendent of Police. Both sides were given opportunity to present their case. It seemed to me that I could convince the designated officer that it was a false trapping case. CBI, however, stuck to their logic i.e. it was a case of accepting bribe and as such, the charged officer had to be prosecuted. During the meeting, we were pressing our point, “The officer is innocent”. But CBI was insisting, “Let that be decided by the court”. Anyway, we were told that the decision would be communicated to us in due course. We then left the place.
After almost a month, we got a letter from CVC through our Corporate Centre, Mumbai. I went through the letter and found CVC did not accept our contention and resultantly advised us to give permission to CBI to prosecute the officer. I was little upset and started introspecting as to where I went wrong in my presentation. In a few days I made up my mind and decided not to give permission for prosecution as by doing so we would be doing complete injustice to an innocent officer. Accordingly, replied to the letter to CVC letter through our CVO giving some more points why we were not inclined to give permission.
Time was moving in its own pace. After almost a month, I was advised by Vigilance Dept. at our Corporate Centre that I had to appear before an Expert Committee in CVC to present our case. As per schedule, I reached CVC in time and our CVO was also present thereat. In the meeting, apart from us, there were representatives from CBI and the committee members including the Vigilance Commissioner. We placed our reasoned views before the committee. Similarly, CBI also presented their side. At the end of the meeting, I submitted a copy containing sequential events and our views to each of the committee members and left the place with a positive feeling. To be frank, I was hopeful of getting a fair judgement from the Expert Committee of the CVC.
True to my expectation and after almost a month, we got a letter through our Corporate Centre exonerating the officer concerned from all the charges levelled against him. I was too happy to express it not because we won the case but because it was the triumph of the truth. It would not be an exaggeration to tell you that I saw the concerned officer only once during my visit to that area after almost nine months of my taking over of the charge.
This was a huge moral victory for the officers in general and the charged officer in particular but the mental pressure on me was tremendous as I was committed to bring justice to the hapless officer who had to suffer massive ignominy by way stay behind the bar as also under suspension. Anyway all is well that ends well. Truth always prevails in the end.