As the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) intensified their investigation into Delhi’s excise policy with three high-profile arrests in three days, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) now finds itself in the middle of another controversy. The CBI, in its preliminary report, has alleged that AAP, under the vigilance department, had set up a Feedback Unit, which among its many functions, also collected political intelligence.
However, AAP hasn’t spoken anything about the formation of such a unit, its functioning and whether it continues to operate even now. It has dismissed allegations of political snooping against Manish Sisodia as ‘completely false’ and ‘bogus’ and an attempt to divert attention from issues raised by the opposition in Parliament.
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L-G VK Saxena has approved the CBI’s request to file a case against Sisodia and other officials involved in the matter. The L-G also referred the CBI’s request to the President.
What was the Feedback Unit?
The preliminary report by the CBI and internal documents of the vigilance department point towards the formation of the unit immediately after AAP came to power in 2015 polls. The documents say that the decision was taken by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal without consulting the cabinet.
The unit started functioning on February 1, 2016, manned by 17 contractual employees, most of whom were retired officials of the Intelligence Bureau and Central Paramilitary Forces.
In fact, former L-G Najeeb Jung had ordered that the matter be referred to the CBI, taking note of prima facie evidence of improprieties and violation of rules. “No state government can put up a counter-IB (Intelligence Bureau) unit like this. If they have surveillance over me or you, it’s completely illegal. This is a violation of the right to privacy. This is a very serious matter. I cannot, because I do not like you, tap your phone,” Jung had said.
CBI documents show that months after coming to power in 2015, AAP dispensation allegedly created the ‘Feedback Unit’ to strengthen the vigilance establishment and gather “relevant and actionable feedback” on the working of various “departments, autonomous bodies, institutions and entities” falling under its jurisdiction and also execute “trap cases”.
As per the CBI, an analysis of the nature of the report generated by the Feedback Unit allegedly showed that political intelligence and other issues accounted for 40 per cent, whereas as 60 per cent were related to vigilance matters.
Leading a massive protest, Leader of the Opposition in Delhi Assembly, BJP MLA Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia should resign immediately as prima facie the CBI has held Sisodia responsible for setting up the Feedback Unit.
Delhi state unit BJP functionaries have sought an independent probe into the case and have demanded immediate suspension of Sisodia. “This is a very serious issue that needs to be investigated by appropriate agencies. Charting out a separate unit within the government to undertake espionage is not acceptable. It defeats the very purpose of a democratic and a constitutional government,” one of the functionaries leading the protest near Delhi Secretariat told The Federal.
“Instead of working on development, AAP had used taxpayers’ money for conducting illegal snooping. A case must be registered against them. It is a worrying development. After spying, were they sharing this information with someone? This may have ramifications for our national security,” he said.
While The Federal reached out to AAP seeking its response, the party refused to comment on the ongoing developments. However, a source in the party said that the AAP has unequivocally denied the allegations, but refused to answer whether the unit was established and if it continues to function.
The operative part
According to the CBI document, the Feedback Unit was not functioning for the purpose for which it was initially set up in 2015, but was working for some other hidden purposes which were not in the interest of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi but private interest of AAP and Manish Sisodia, who played an active role in its creation flouting established rules of GNCTD and MHA.
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The L-G note also mentions that the entire scheme of creating the Feedback Unit and its modus operandi portrays that there was more to hide than can be perceived in the entire exercise.
While giving his approval to the CBI to file a case, the L-G also recommended a detailed investigation into the whole matter, over and above the evidence already accumulated by the CBI, so as to ascertain if there existed any sinister design similar to challenging the established constitutional authority of the state by secretively subverting institutions and statutes. The L-G has unequivocally expressed that if such an effort was indeed proven, those involved in it must be dealt with all seriousness.