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Probe agencies overstepping limits, says Chidambaram

    Devesh K. Pandey
    Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar
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A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked police agencies to exercise caution while probing executive decisions, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram censured law enforcement bodies and the Comptroller and Auditor General on Tuesday for “overstepping their limits” and attempting to convert bona fide executive decisions into cases of crime or abuse of authority. 

“I would caution investigating agencies to respect the line that divides policy-making and policing. An offence is committed when a prescribed rule of conduct is violated.  If there is no prescribed rule, or if there is no violation of a prescribed rule, there is no offence,” said the Finance Minister.

He was addressing the Central Bureau of Investigation’s three-day conference on “Evolving Common Strategies to Combat Corruption and Crime.”

It was not the business of the investigating agency to lay down or presume a rule of conduct. “Even where a rule has been prescribed, if there is a policy behind that rule, it is not the business of the investigating agency to question the wisdom of that policy or to suggest a different policy that would be better in the view of the investigating agency,” he said. The investigating agency must confine itself to the question whether there has been a violation of a laid-down rule.

Mr. Chidambaram said the principle of strict liability may not apply without qualification to financial crimes, except in a few cases where the law unambiguously stipulated that violation of the rule would be considered an offence. 

There were cases where the CBI — and sometimes courts — had interpreted provisions of the law to exclude  mens rea . “Ordinarily, a financial crime would arise from either unlawful gain or unlawful loss and in such cases the law could either stipulate proof of the state of mind or presume a state of mind to cause the unlawful gain or unlawful loss. So, in financial crimes,  mens rea  or the state of mind must be invariably proved or presumed from certain facts.”

The BJP criticised the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister for “trying to gag the CBI” and “issuing veiled signals to the judiciary.” It said the Congress-led UPA government could not perpetuate fraud and impropriety in the name of policy making. “The UPA built corruption into a policy and is now arguing that the CBI should not investigate policy issues,” said party national spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.


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