The 'Botched and Blinkered' Past of the NIA’s Next Chief

Y.C. Modi's probe into the murder of a BJP leader was slammed by the Gujarat high court for "ineptitude resulting into injustice". He will be next director of the National Investigation Agency.

New Delhi:  Senior IPS officer Y.C. Modi, who helped investigate the assassination of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya in 2003, has been named as the next head the National Investigation Agency (NIA) – India’s premier counter-terror agency.

The Pandya investigation led to the conviction of 12 persons under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). They were all subsequently acquitted by the Gujarat High Court in 2011, having spent eight years in jail.

Justice D.H. Waghela, who made up the bench along with Justice J.C. Upadhyaya, remarked in that verdict that:

“What clearly stands out from the record of the present case is that the investigation in the case of murder of Shri Haren Pandya has all throughout been botched up and blinkered and has left a lot to be desired. The investigating officers concerned ought to be held accountable for their ineptitude resulting into injustice, huge harassment of many persons concerned and enormous waste of public resources and public time of the courts.”

The court’s judgment revealed a prosecution case riddled with contradictory statements, leaving as evidence mainly recorded confessions (considered admissible under POTA.) About these confessions, the bench said:

“The investigation clearly appears to have been so botched up and misdirected that the confessional statements recorded during police remand, before any police officer, could not be safely relied for convicting any of the appellants [of murder].”

The judgement cast doubt on the CBI theory of Pandya’s murder, down to the basic claim that he had been shot dead inside his car:

The mystery of the murder is deepened by the facts, borne out from the record, that no blood was found in Shri Pandya’s car except a negligible spot on the seat near the driver’s seat even as his clothes bore tell-tale signs of profuse bleeding from injuries on the neck and forearm.”

Pandya’s family would accuse the CBI of derailing the investigation. Jagruti Pandya, the victim’s wife, later petitioned for a re-investigation of the murder, rejecting the CBI’s theory that Pandya was murdered in revenge for the 2002 riots.

In the final event, nearly 15 years later, despite Y.C. Modi’s exertions as the head of the CBI team – or perhaps because of them – nobody has been punished for the daylight murder of the senior BJP leader.

The twelve accused were acquitted of Pandya’s murder, but their convictions upheld in a case clubbed with it, regarding an attempt on the life of Jagdish Tiwari, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, also in 2003. The convictions were based on a concession by the lawyers of the accused. In the Tiwari case as well, the high court noted ‘the voluminous record and number of controversies about each piece of important evidence’.

Y.C. Modi was also part of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed some of the 2002 Gujarat riots cases. He is at present working as a special director in the CBI, and will take over as NIA chief on the superannuation of the present incumbent, Sharad Kumar, on October 30. In the interim, according to the Department of Personnel and Training, Modi will take over as officer on special duty in the NIA to ensure a smooth takeover. He is expected to hold the post until May 31, 2021.

The new appointment places Y.C. Modi among several officials who either worked with the prime minister when he was chief minister of Gujarat, or else were involved in crucial probes, and have received key posts in the Central government since 2014. The list includes at least 14 IAS officers who were transferred from Gujarat to the Centre.

Y.C. Modi’s appointment is also being watched with interest as it is a key post when it comes to setting the narrative on crucial terror investigations. Sharad Kumar received two extensions from the Modi government, and under his tenure several important investigations were conducted by the agency. Notable among these were the Samjhauta blast case, the Pathankot terror case, terror strikes in Kashmir and the Burdwan blast case.

Prior to this, Gujarat cadre IAS officer and former chief secretary of the state Achal Kumar Joti was appointed the Chief Election Commissioner of India in July 2017. Other officers from Gujarat who made it big at the Centre include revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, power secretary P.K. Pujari, commerce secretary Rita Teotia, corporate affairs secretary Tapan Rai, and joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Arvind Kumar Sharma.

Among Indian Police Service officers from Gujarat who now occupy key positions in the Centre are Rakesh Asthana, who was made acting director of the CBI last year, and A.K. Pattanaik, who is the CEO of the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID). Following the appointment of Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of his appointment.

The elevation of Y.C. Modi is bound to once again ignite the issue of why Gujarat cadre officers or those who have worked on Gujarat matters during Modi’s tenure as chief minister are being put in key positions in premier agencies.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Y.C. Modi was from the Gujarat cadre of the Indian Police Service. He is, in fact, from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre.