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Is CBI the handmaiden of the government?

The CBI headquarters in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

LEFT | Prashant Bhushan




The CBI has to be placed under an independent body to investigate cases without government interference

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) acts largely at the behest of the government of the day and this becomes quite obvious from the things done and not done. Take the cases of Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati. Whenever the government wanted to put pressure on them, the CBI was used to pursue the case of disproportionate assets against them. When the politicians came around, the case went cold. If you recall, it just went back and forth. It is in this context that we need to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in February warning the Congress: Jabaan sambhaal kar rakho, warna mere paas aapki poori janam patri padi hui hai (Hold your tongue, I have your entire horoscope). What did he mean by the statement? The present government has even put pressure on the judiciary.

Its master’s voice

Similar questions will be asked about the current raids on Lalu Prasad —specially the timing and the manner in which the raids are being conducted. I am not saying there is no case against Mr. Prasad, it is a 10-year-old case. What I am arguing is, whether the CBI acts or not depends on the political will of its master. In this case, there is a clear indication that the Modi government wants Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to break ranks with Mr. Prasad. There are many such instances.

Take Air India, for instance. We have been arguing for the last six years about corruption in the Civil Aviation Ministry during Praful Patel’s tenure — which is also part of the book, The Descent of Air India, by the former Managing Director of Air India, Jitender Bhargava. But look what happened. Our petition dragged on for six years and only recently after the Supreme Court asked the CBI to take a view has the matter moved. The CBI has filed an FIR. But again, the circumstances under which action is now being taken raises question on the timing of the case. Why not then? And why now? Is the move linked to pressurising Mr. Patel in any manner and if so, to what end? We can go as far back as the Bofors case to understand how the CBI has been used by successive governments to work for them.

I could give you more examples. Take the case of former Chief Minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, who had been chargesheeted by the CBI in the case involving donations made to his trust by miners who obtained contracts. The court has let off the former CM. Why didn’t the CBI appeal against the order? The silence is deafening.

Need for autonomy

The movement against corruption, or the Lokpal movement, had made a plain argument when it sought the delinking of the CBI from the administrative control of the government. In that as long as the government of the day has the power to transfer and post officials of its choice in the CBI, the investigating agency will not enjoy autonomy and will be unable to investigate cases freely.

Then again, there are instances of corrupt officers in the CBI who become pliable in the hands of the government. The CBI has to be placed under an independent body. The CBI, Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate are three instruments which the government has used for political purposes and the pressure they apply is always by way of inaction.

(as told to Anuradha Raman)

The writer is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court

RIGHT | Prakash Singh




The fault is not so much of the organisation as of the people who shape its structure and define its powers

Institutions are created in response to certain situations. There are times when the responses are in furtherance of a political agenda and there are times when responses reflect the genuine desire to deal with a situation. In either case, institutions need to be upgraded and modernised.

A colonial creation

The Police Act of 1861 was passed with a political objective — to uphold the imperial interests of the British Empire and create an agency which would be at the beck and call of the masters and carry out their orders, right or wrong, legal or otherwise. During World War II, the Government of India realised that the vast increase in expenditure because of the war effort had provided opportunities to unscrupulous elements to indulge in bribery and corruption. The police and other law enforcement agencies, it was felt, were not in a position to cope with the situation. An executive order was therefore passed in 1941, setting up the Special Police Establishment (SPE) in the then Department of War. In 1946, the government passed the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, expanding its functions to cover all departments. With the passage of time, more and more cases came to be entrusted with the SPE. In 1963, through a resolution, the government metamorphosed the SPE into the CBI, under the Ministry of Personnel. It has since gradually evolved into a multifaceted, multidisciplinary investigating agency.

Criticism and inaction

The CBI has been criticised from time to time. Justice J.S. Verma in an article published in 2009 stated that “it is sad that even now the CBI continues to disappoint the people whenever it deals with cases against the powerful”. The Supreme Court [in 2013] called it a “caged parrot”. The criticism is valid, but can we hold the CBI responsible for that? Successive committees at different periods of time suggested changes in the composition and structure of the CBI.

As far back as 1978, the L.P. Singh Committee recommended the “enactment of a comprehensive central legislation to remove the deficiency of not having a central investigative agency with a self-sufficient statutory charter of duties and functions”. The 19th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2007) recommended that a separate Act should be promulgated for the CBI “in tune with the requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality”. The 24th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2008) was of the unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources”. It is unfortunate that none of these recommendations were acted upon.

Who is to blame then? The government or the CBI? It is unfair to blame the organisation when it is not given the required legal mandate, when it is not provided with the requisite manpower and financial resources. It is true that some of the recent Directors of the CBI brought a bad name to the organisation, but the truth of the matter is that in their cases the selection process was subverted or tweaked and protégés of influential politicians posted. The fault is not so much of the organisation as of the people who shape its structure and define its powers.

It is a matter of common experience that every time there is a sensational case, the popular demand is for a CBI investigation. The CBI is a first-class investigating agency as long as the government does not interfere with or influence its functioning.

The writer is a former Director General of the Border Security Force

CENTRE | Navneet Rajan Wasan




It would not be fair to damn an organisation for its ignominious recent performance and ignore its long-term record

The CBI has made its mark as an independent, objective and fair investigation agency over the years. It has won the confidence of the public, judiciary and media, resulting in a frequent demand that it investigate sensitive and complex cases, especially of corruption among the upper echelons of public service.

Stellar service

The high standards and fair play in investigation have been the result of time-tested internal controls laying emphasis on collection of evidence, its objective evaluation, and freedom to record an independent and honest opinion by different ranks as regards prosecutability of an accused or otherwise. The status of an accused or his affiliation to a particular organisation has not been of any importance for investigation.

It has been well recognised that it is the quality, calibre and professionalism of personnel that make the CBI what it has come to signify. In order to maintain the standards, the leaders of yesteryear ensured that officers having experience of working in the CBI were inducted in senior supervisory positions. Whenever there was a deviation from the standards set or someone was accused of dishonesty, remedial action was initiated and a review made to improve the internal control mechanism.

This, of course, does not mean that the organisation and its leaders have never faltered in the discharge of their duty. The CBI’s image did suffer a setback in the last few years.

The organisation faced its first major challenge when it was accused of inertia in its probe against the high dignitaries in Jain hawala diaries case [of the 1990s]. On a PIL filed in this matter, the apex court, in what is known as the Vineet Narain case, not only decided to monitor the probe but also issued guidelines for selection of officers including its Director with an assured tenure of two years. Later, these were formalised by way of amendments in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and modified again in respect of selection of the Director by further amendments through the Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act, 2013. The purpose was to ensure the autonomy and independence of the CBI.

Unfortunately, the mechanism put in place failed to deliver. Some of the Directors in the recent past did not inspire much confidence. The organisation lost direction under their leadership and earned the dubious reputation of being a “caged parrot”. The well laid down systems were given the go-by, and decisions to prosecute or not were not taken on merit. Two of its Directors are under investigation for allegations of corruption.

Back to basics

However, I am of the opinion that it would not be fair to damn an organisation for its ignominious performance for a short interlude and ignore its long-term record. The trend can certainly be reversed by going back to basics, sticking to its time-tested internal procedures and compliance to the tenets of rule of law. The present leadership, no doubt, has an onerous responsibility to bring back the past glory by ensuring that the CBI remains above all influence and works as per the law.

To ensure that the CBI is a robust, independent and credible investigation agency, there is an urgent need to work out a much more transparent mechanism for selection of the Director and induction of officers on deputation. The tenure of the Director needs to be enhanced, terms of officers made sacrosanct and the CBI given reasonable financial and administrative autonomy if it has to live up to its motto of ‘Industry, Impartiality and Integrity’.

The writer retired as Director General of Bureau of Police Research & Development and has earlier served for long years in the CBI and the National Investigation Agency

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 12:47:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/is-cbi-the-handmaiden-of-the-government/article19272931.ece

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