The tragedy of what should be a fiercely independent agency is that it has been stymied by tendentious politicians and humiliated by gross political interference

I crave the indulgence of one of my mentors in the Indian Police Service for borrowing the title for this article from his extremely well-written memoirs of about two decades ago. V.R. Lakshminarayanan was no less distinguished than his brother, the illustrious Justice Krishna Iyer. It is an irony that he never rose to head the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) despite his professional competence and integrity. In fact, it was his unwillingness to compromise and bend while investigating corruption in the highest of places that cost him the coveted job. Eased out from his posting as Additional Director of the CBI, he was reverted to the State Police. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran had heard of his competence and absolute integrity. He lost no time making VRL (as he is affectionately known to many of his admirers) the DGP of Tamil Nadu, a job that he held with great distinction.

For all this, the man is never bitter that he was not allowed to lead the CBI. Pushing 80s, he spends his time now guiding even the junior-most IPS officer on the fundamentals of policing or when such an officer is in trouble with the bosses for his indiscretion, in trying to be straight and apolitical. VRL must be amused over the circumstances in which another Additional Director is in the news.

Autonomy versus control

Archana Ramasundaram is a competent officer, again of the Tamil Nadu cadre, who has been made Additional Director of the CBI under controversial circumstances, especially when the organisation is at the crossroads. There is a raging debate now between those who want greater autonomy and those who demand more administrative control for the highest investigating body in the country. You can guess, between the judiciary and the executive, the two principal players in the field, who seeks what! This is the tragedy of what should be a fiercely independent and professional agency — that it has been systematically stymied by tendentious politicians and humiliated at times by gross political interference. And the guilty are those who have belonged to different political complexions. The difference between them is that some have been less and some more brazen about cutting the CBI down to size. The matter is still with the Court. One cannot guess how much freedom the CBI will be given ultimately. But the Archana Ramasundaram controversy, if it goes to court, will also set the tone for the debate.

The point in this case is that the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) chose to ignore Ms Ramasundaram’s claim and instead recommended R.K. Pachnanda of the West Bengal cadre, who is three years junior to her. According to media reports, the Director of the CBI preferred Ms Ramasundaram to Mr. Pachnanda. It is not known why, contrary to traditional practice, the CVC forwarded only one name (Mr. Pachnanda) for the job to the government, instead of a panel, usually of three names. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) turned this down and preferred Ms Ramasundaram, one of the five names forwarded to the CVC by the Department of Personnel (DOPT), the administrative ministry that controls the CBI, and screens the names of eligible officers initially. The CVC stood its guns even after the government returned Mr. Pachnanda’s name and indicated its choice.

The government had possibly its own reasons for preferring Ms Ramasundaram. When his opinion was sought, the Solicitor General endorsed the correctness of the government’s position. He believed that when the CVC gave no option in the form of a panel of names, the government was well within its right to reject the only nominee of the CVC.

I also believe that in a democratic structure — the executive should have a reasonable choice and should have the last word in such matters. The only caveat is that the procedure prescribed by law should not have been flouted. There is nothing here to suggest that the government was guilty of violating the established protocol in appointing Ms Ramasundaram. Activist Vineet Narain (who steered the Supreme Court ruling in the famous Hawala case whereby the CBI Director got a mandatory two-year tenure) considers the government action untenable and has threatened to go to court.

The major point for a judicial ruling is whether the government has the right to overrule CVC recommendations in CBI appointments. My own reading of Section 4C(ii) of the Special Police Establishment Act 1946 as amended by the CVC Act of 2003, is that the CVC has only a recommendatory role here. This is analogous to the appointment to the rank of DGP in a State, where the Union Public Service Commission approves a panel sent by the State government, and the latter chooses one from the panel. (Incidentally, an Additional Director in the CBI is of the DGP’s rank, and Ms Ramasundaram was DGP in Tamil Nadu before her appointment to the CBI.)

Other controversies

Police promotions in the States are no less contentious. The latest controversy is the appointment of Rakesh Maria as the Mumbai Police Commissioner. Javed Ahmed, an officer senior to him, has complained of injustice. There are many speculations doing the rounds, including one which says that this was a triumph of the Nationalist Congress Party over the Congress Party. This alone highlights how politicised the Indian Police is.

What is being alleged in this controversy is that Mr. Ahmed was promoted to the rank of DGP on the eve of Mr. Maria’s choice for Commissioner, even though a DGP vacancy was available for quite some time.

Such are the games politicians play across the country and which have given the Indian Police a bad name. Whatever be the truth, the fact is that every person apppointed to a key police job in the government is made to feel obliged to the authorities so that, at critical times, he or she has no option but to bend. This is the unfortunate plight of the Indian Police.

For this sorry state of affairs, it is not the politicians alone who have to be blamed. The power-hungry bureaucrat is no less culpable. It is he or she who is the ready prey that a run-of-the-mill politician is constantly seeking. It is equally true there are many a venal politician can choose from.

(R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.)

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