Chief Justice of India flags ‘falling credibility’ of CBI 

Chief Justice N.V. Ramana calls for umbrella probe body to avoid multiple proceedings.

April 01, 2022 10:03 pm | Updated April 02, 2022 09:44 am IST - NEW DELHI

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana delivers the 19th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture on April 1, 2022. Photo: YouTube/High Court of Karnataka Official

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana delivers the 19th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture on April 1, 2022. Photo: YouTube/High Court of Karnataka Official

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Friday said, with the passage of time, like every other institution of repute, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had also come under deep public scrutiny. Its actions and inactions had raised questions regarding its credibility, in some cases.

Delivering the 19th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture, organised by the CBI, he said there was an immediate need for the creation of an independent umbrella institution, so as to bring various central agencies like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office under one roof.

“We have a vested interest in strengthening democracy, because we essentially believe in democratic way of living. We Indians love our freedom. When any attempt has been made to snatch our freedom, our alert citizenry did not hesitate to seize the power back from autocrats. So, it is essential that, all the institutions including the police and the investigative bodies uphold and strengthen the democratic values,” he said.

Chief Justice Ramana said the police and the probe agencies should not allow any authoritarian tendencies to creep in. “They need to function within democratic framework as prescribed under the Constitution. Any deviation will hurt the institutions and will weaken our democracy. The police and the investigative agencies may have de-facto legitimacy, but yet, as institutions, they still have to gain sociallegitimacy,” he said.

Recommending an independent umbrella institution, he said: “This body is required to be created under a statute, clearly defining its powers, functions and jurisdictions. Such a law will also lead to much needed legislative oversight.”

He said the organisation should be headed by an independent and impartial authority, appointed by a committee akin to the one which appointed the CBI Director. Its head could be assisted by deputies having specialisation in different domains.

“This umbrella organisation will end multiplicity of proceedings. A single incident these days gets investigated by multiple agencies, often leading to dilution of evidence, contradiction indepositions, prolonged incarceration of innocents. It will also save the institution from being blamed as a tool of harassment. Once an incident is reported, the organisation should decide as to which specialised wing should take up investigation,” he said.

The CJI said one additional in-built safeguard was to have separate and autonomous wings for prosecution and investigation, to ensure total independence. A reasonable check and balance would be a provision in the proposed law for annual audit of the institution’s performance by the appointing committee.

Chief Justice Ramana said: “With the police and public order under the State list, and rightlyso, the burden of investigation is primarily on the State police. There is no reason why State investigative agencies, which handle most of the investigations, cannot enjoy the same levelof credibility as that of the national agency. The State agencies must be equipped to deal with increasing challenges in the field of investigation. The proposed Central law for the umbrella investigative body, can be suitably replicated by the States.”

He said there should be a harmonious relationship between the State and Central agencies and collaboration was the key, given that the goal of all those organisations was to secure justice.

Stating that the justice delivery system of independent India drew its legitimacy from the Constitution, Chief Justice Ramana earlier said: “Unfortunately, our investigative agencies still do not have the benefit of being guided by a comprehensive law. Need of the hour is the creation of an independent and autonomous investigative agency.

Earlier, the CJI said CBI Director Subodh Kumar Jaiswal came across to him as an officer who was committed towards improving the agency’s functioning. “I remember the times when CBI, in its anxiety, used to conduct several press conferences even before conducting proper investigation. I am happy to note that under the present leadership the organisation is maintaining a low profile, as it should be,” he said.

The CJI said there was a need for adequate representation of women in the criminal justice system.

Justice Ramana said: “Ultimately, you must remember that your allegiance must be to the Constitution and the rule of law, and not to any person. When you stand upright, you shall be remembered for your courage, principles and valour,” he said, adding that policing was not a mere job, but a calling. The need of the hour was to reclaim social legitimacy and public trust and the first step to gain the same was to break the nexus with the political executive.

Stating that police reforms was long overdue, Chief Justice Ramana listed several issues that, he said, were affecting the system. They included lack of infrastructure, sufficient manpower and modern equipment; in-human conditions, especially at the lowest rung; questionable methods of procuring evidence; officers failing to abide by the rule book; and lack of accountability of erring officers.

The issues leading to delay in trials were lack of public prosecutors and standing counsels; seeking adjournments; arraying hundreds of witnesses and filing voluminous documents in pending trials; undue imprisonment of undertrials; change in priorities with the change in the political executive; cherry picking of evidence; and repeated transfers of officers leading to a change in the direction of probe.

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