OPINION

Trouble at the top

Firm intervention is needed to endthe unsavoury controversy in the CBI

At one level, what is going on in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is a ‘turf war’, a battle of egos between two individuals at the helm. But the unsavoury developments involving the CBI Director and its Special Director are reflective of a much deeper malaise — a big rot at the very heart of the premier investigating agency. That the CBI registered a First Information Report against its own Special Director is extraordinary. The most troubling aspect of the ongoing crisis involving Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana is that only one of them will be proved right; either way, it is the agency that will be shown in a poor light. If the Director is justified in embarking on a high-profile probe into bribery charges against Mr. Asthana, it can only mean that corruption is so pervasive that even the second-in-command in the agency is not beyond demanding Rs. 3 crore to let someone off the hook. On the other hand, if Mr. Asthana is shown to be wrongly implicated, and his own charges — set out in a complaint to the Central Vigilance Commission — that other CBI officers are interfering in ongoing probes are proved right, the situation will be no better. It cannot be forgotten that this controversy was preceded only recently with two Directors of the CBI coming under a cloud. The Supreme Court held that the charges that Ranjit Sinha, when heading the agency, sought to help the accused in several cases and interfered in ongoing probes were ‘prima facie credible’; as a result, he was asked to keep away from the 2G telecom cases. Similarly, A.P. Singh, another director, was booked last year for alleged links with meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Clearly, the existing procedure for the appointment of CBI Directors, which is made by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, has not stripped the office of controversy.

And now as well, it is the Qureshi case that continues to haunt the agency. Its investigating officer, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, has been arrested on the charge of fabricating a statement by a Hyderabad-based businessman “to corroborate baseless charges” made by Mr. Asthana against Mr. Verma in a complaint to the CVC. The CBI labours under a dual image: an independent agency in the perception of those disillusioned with the conduct of the jurisdiction police, and a ‘caged parrot’ or a handmaiden of the ruling party at the Centre in the eyes of the national Opposition. Recent developments, in which Central agencies are seen as targeting those in Opposition parties, add to the latter perception and do not augur well for its credibility. To a large extent, the political leadership must bear the primary responsibility for such controversies. It is difficult to ignore the fact that Mr. Asthana’s appointment as Special Director was made despite Mr. Verma’s vehement objections about his suitability, something the CVC chose to overrule. In such circumstances, it is up to the CVC and the Centre to address the present crisis. A good place to start will be to take Mr. Asthana, whose name already figures in a case, temporarily out of the agency to ensure an impartial probe.

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