Part 2: What happens in a trap case | Watch the drama unfold -Red handed.

This is the second part of our series on trap cases. If you have not read the first part yet, Please read it here.

Part 1: What happens in a trap case | What is the role of sub-inspector in it?

Laying of a trap:

Now that both, the complaint and the complainant have been verified and found genuine, it’s time to lay the trap. The first thing needed to execute the trap is the money. This money is the most important piece of evidence for securing a conviction in the case.

This money has to be arranged by the complainant himself. Remember, CBI cannot in any condition provide him with the money to use in the trap. It would be tantamount to planting the evidence beforehand by the CBI. To maintain the impartiality and genuineness, CBI cannot appear helping the complainant by going out of its way other than its constitutional responsibility. It is, however, a consolation that an equivalent amount of money is returned to the complainant after the charge-sheet has been filed as this tainted money is used as the evidence during the trial.

If the complainant is so poor that he cannot afford to arrange the money, the trap cannot be laid. Although a case can be made even on a genuine complaint of a demand of a bribe, it is weaker in absence of the direct evidence which a trap case provides. So CBI doesn’t act in such cases.

The second thing that CBI needs is two independent witnesses. CBI being a very professional department has an exceptional level of transparency in all its proceedings. Before doing anything, CBI calls two witnesses, preferably the government servants.

The government servants are preferred as they are less susceptible to pressure/coercion from the accused persons as their jobs are at stake. Furthermore, if they turn hostile in the trial proceedings, CBI can request their concerned departments to initiate departmental action against them. So in a way, they stay true to the facts during the course of the trial. In addition, as the trials of these cases drag on for years, sometimes up to 6-10 years, it may become impossible to even locate private persons for their testimony in the court. Government servants can be traced easily with the help of their departments.

It is also kept in mind that these witnesses are the first time witnesses in any CBI proceedings otherwise in the trial, the defense may take the plea that these are the pet witnesses of CBI, thereby weakening the case.

When the witnesses come to the office on the scheduled day of the trap, they are introduced to everybody in the trap team. Then they are explained the entire procedure of trap in detail but not the target of the trap. They are also given a demonstration of the phenolphthalein powder turning the water pink.

Some currency notes are taken and some phenolphthalein powder is sprinkled on them. These notes are then touched by hands. When these hands are dipped in water, the solution turns pink. This change of color from colorless to pink inevitably signifies that the notes have been touched by hand. The darkness (or the lightness, if you prefer) of the color pink is determined by the amount of phenolphthalein powder applied on the notes and the amount of powder stuck to the hands during the exchange.

These demonstration notes are then sealed and securely kept in the branch itself in the knowledge of the independent witnesses. This is to make sure that the notes are not being taken to the spot and hence cannot be planted by CBI against the accused persons. It is necessary to convince the witnesses of the genuineness of the entire proceedings.

Preparation of the trap:

After the demonstration, it’s time to prepare for the actual trap proceedings.

A fresh coat of phenolphthalein powder is applied generously on the currency notes brought by the complainant. After the application of powder, these notes are securely kept in the pocket of the complainant. It is to remember here that once the notes have been greased with the phenolphthalein powder, nobody can touch these notes. The complainant is also strictly forbidden to touch the notes or even the pocket in which the money has been kept until the actual transaction.

Once every preparation has been done, it’s time to proceed to the spot of the trap. The TLO (Trap laying officer or IO of the case), AIO (Assistant IO), sub-inspectors, constables and the witnesses then surround the room/building and take their places. Note that the building is surrounded by the trap team as casually as possible to avoid any suspicion.

The complainant is then signaled to go to the accused person and do the alleged transaction. He is strictly instructed not to bring up the topic of bribe unless the accused mentions it first. The complainant should not take out the money from his pocket unless the accused has asked for it. Once the accused asks for the money, the complainant should, with a poker face, hand over the money to the accused. He is instructed to deliver the money, as far as possible, directly in the hands of the accused.

CBI trap ACB
Poker face: The complainant should not show any emotion during the transaction.


Sometimes it also happens that the accused does not touch the money himself or by his own hands. He may ask the complainant to hand over the money to the peon. It may also happen that the accused asks him to put the money directly in his drawer. The complainant in no circumstances should offer any resistance or reluctance to do what the accused wants. If the complainant makes a conspicuous attempt to put the money in the hands of the accused, the accused may become wary and the trap may go bust. Therefore the complainant should give the money to whomsoever he is directed by the accused. CBI will arrest this third person (peon, tout etc.) also for being an accomplice in the crime.

A pre-defined subtle signal is settled upon by both the trap laying team and the complainant which indicates that the money has exchanged hands. If the complainant and the accused are visible from the windows, then this signal can be a waving of a hand above the head or scratching over his head. If the accused is not visible from any of the windows, then the moment the complainant comes out of the room/building and gives a nod or says a code word like ‘water cooler’ or ‘parking lot’, it means the transaction has occurred as per the plan.

CBI TRAP case proceedings
A predefined signal like ‘scratch on the head’ is agreed upon in advance to alert the trap team.

Once the transaction has happened and the money has exchanged hands, it’s time to act quickly. Constables and the entire team has to make sure that accused do not wipe or wash his hands before they catch him. It is also imperative to get hold of him on his wrists lest he should immediately wipe his palms. If such precaution is not taken, he can also take a plea in the court that the CBI officials caught him by the palms and greased them with the phenolphthalein powder. This will seriously damage the case.

trap cbi wrists acb
The accused must be caught by his wrists.

The constables or the sub-inspector whoever is holding him must be of a heavy build who can weather the resistance offered by the accused in this time of distress. It should be kept in mind that this is such a trying time for the accused that he loses all control over himself and his base animal instincts may make themselves prominent. All his inhibitions to not use his full force may break apart and he may marshall all his muscles to offer resistance to the trap party.

Once someone has caught the accused by his wrists, another team member, preferably the sub-inspector searches for the tainted money that has just exchanged hands. As has been told earlier, this tainted money is the most important piece of evidence, it is mandatory to recover the same. If this money is not recovered, the case is in jeopardy and the accused may get acquitted in the court.

Note that all these proceedings have to be witnessed by the independent witnesses. Once the accused has been caught by his wrists by the constables, a glass of water is brought before the accused and constables are asked to dip his hands in it slowly. Note that the water has to be taken from the premises itself and not from any water bottle brought by the trap team otherwise, it will jeopardize the case.

Now keep in mind that the accused can/will try to free himself from the grip or to push the glass or in any way, jeopardize the case. In such a scenario, in front of independent witnesses, the use of force by the CBI officials is allowed by law but only to such an extent as is necessary to keep the accused from destroying the evidence or harm the case in any way. Nowhere in law, has it been sanctioned that the amount of such force exceeds the minimum force required otherwise it would constitute overstepping the bounds of the law.

Once his hands have been safely dipped in the water, they should be kept there for some time and should be taken out very slowly. The water solution should not be stirred either by shaking the solution or by using the hands of the accused. It is compulsory here to note that no one, I repeat no one can touch the water solution once the hands of the accused have been taken out of it.

It sometimes also happens that the color of the solution comes very light pink so some constable takes a spoon and stirs the water with it. The color of the solution instantly turns red destroying the case entirely as it surely means that the spoon contained the phenolphthalein powder. No matter how light or dark pink the solution is, the solution should not be touched by anyone or else it would constitute planting the evidence. This glass along with the solution is then sealed and a video of the entire proceedings may be recorded.

The accused is then arrested and an arrest memo is prepared at the spot. This arrest memo is given to the senior/supervisor of the accused and a receiving of the same is taken from him. The accused is then taken to the court and an application for 3 days of police custody is moved before the court. Generally, this permission is granted and the accused is then brought to the CBI head office for further questioning. Once in the CBI HQ, his statement is recorded and all other documentary formalities are completed. After the end of this 3 day period, the accused is again presented before the court from where he is sent to the jail by the court. The accused can now move an application for bail through his counsel.

In the meantime, just after the trap, a search (raid) is conducted at the residential premises of the accused person. It is highly likely that he is a habitual bribe taker and he may have disproportionate assets than his known sources of income. This is done to further bolster the case by the CBI. The second objective of this search is to also recover any supporting documents/evidence relevant to the trap case like the tender file of the complainant, multiple chequebooks of the accused, contact numbers of several private persons who may be working for him as touts etc.

All the relevant documents are then collected and a seizure memo is prepared. All these documents are brought in the CBI HQ for examination.

After a serious examination of these documents and completion of other documentary formalities, a charge sheet is prepared by the IO and filed in the court after taking the necessary go-ahead from the higher authorities of CBI. The case then goes into the trial. If the entire process has gone smoothly and without any hiccups, a senior official, preferable SP may recommend the name of the IO for grant of the award. If higher authorities deem it fit, the IO is rewarded financially for his hard work and his acumen.

If a trap fails then it’s the IO that bears the brunt of the entire failure. CBI has the highest success rate (90%) of securing a conviction in trap cases. If a trap case fails, it inevitably means that the IO has not done his duty properly no matter who in actual botched up the trap. More often than not, a departmental action is then initiated against the TLO (IO) of the case for dereliction of duty.

Queries? Please drop a line in the comments.

Hungry for more? Check these out.

1. Part-1: MythBusters | Does a CBI SP enjoy facilities (bungalow, blue light vehicle, constables) like a state police SP does?
2. Part-2: MythBusters | Who is more powerful: CBI SP or a state police SP?
3. Part : 3 MythBusters | What are the facilities enjoyed by an SI of CBI?

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