What is it about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that has it always in the eye of the storm? That too, for all the wrong reasons. Earning it nicknames, Central Bureau of Corruption, Connivance and Convenience. Or Conspiracy Bureau of Investigation controlled by the Prime Minister. Have your pick.
Buried in newspapers was a landmark Madras High Court judgment accentuating autonomy and independence of the CBI without administrative control of the Government whereby it be made an independent statutory body like Election Commission or Comptroller and Auditor General accountable only to Parliament. Its comment came while hearing a plea seeking CBI probe into a Rs 300 crores ponzi scam in Tamil Nadu.
“This is an attempt to release the caged parrot at the earliest,” as it has time and again been accused and attacked by Opposition leaders of being misused by Government. Recall, in May 2013 the Supreme Court while hearing a case related to UPA Government II’s coal scam had called the agency a “caged parrot speaking in its political masters voice.”
Clearly, the order has got Government knickers in a twist as it puts the onus on Modi Sarkar which repeatedly tom-toms ushering transparency in governance but has till date not walked its talk of making CBI independent whereby it stops being ‘His Masters Voice’ and prevents abuse of power. Notwithstanding, where there are no political overtones or administrative interference the agency has done a good job.
Undeniably, the agency is a favourite with our politicians who always hoot for CBI investigation. Successive Governments have used it as a hand maiden to dance to its tune. A toothless tiger to help friends and settle political scores with opponents with hit-ins, clean chits, political cover-ups and fool proof surety for law enforcers to become law breakers, legitimizing crime and corruption. Thus, raising serious doubts about its honesty and integrity of purpose to weed out the corrupt.
Consequently, the system has become self-perpetuating whereby a threatened political elite give more and more powers to CBI to get their way and have their say. Its merit and investigative skills don’t really matter. What counts is whether the Central Government, especially our political masters (PMO), thinks one is loyal and trustworthy to be appointed in the agency.
Shockingly, there are over 1,300 cases pending against MPs and MLAs in various courts. These include cases being on-off investigated by CBI. Hence, further sullying the agency’s reputation, replete with its “failure” to back-up charges with required evidence. Two cases in point: SP’s Mulayam Singh and BSP’s Mayawati. Whenever the Government, be it Congress’s UPA or BJP’s NDA wanted to put pressure on them, the CBI was used to ‘pursue’ cases of disproportionate assets against them. When they came around, the cases were put in thanda baksa.
Or senior Congress leader and ex-Finance Minister Chidambaram who accuses BJP of political vendetta motivated by political considerations to silence and stop him criticizing the Government while simultaneously proclaiming himself an innocent victim. Drowned in the deafening cacophony is that he stands accused of corruption.
The recent open war between ex-CBI Director Alok Verma and his Special Director Rakesh Asthana had shadowy political mai-baaps in the background which required Supreme Court’s intervention and ended in the ex-director’s resignation. Another, was the clash between the agency and Kolkata Police in February, underscoring an open secret: Protectors and upholders of law have become so compromised and the system so rotten that nobody believes it anymore. Worse, nobody cares a damn.
Moreover, there are critical problems vis-à-vis CBI’s functioning. As per the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the agency can investigate offences in States only if its Government gives consent. Although criminal law and procedure are on the Concurrent List, public order and police are State subjects. Plainly, both Central and State criminal laws are enforced by the State police.
However, there are many instances where Opposition-ruled States have denied consent for CBI investigations, usually over political considerations. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala withdrew their “general consent” for CBI investigations recently. Leading, to Supreme and High Courts’ interventions which directed States to transfer investigations to CBI, effectively superseding States’ consent. Resulting in increasing Centre-State frictions which impeded operation in cases, causing avoidable delays.
Arguably, is the CBI more sinned against than sinning? Is the pot calling the kettle black? The truth is mid-way. Both Government and agency work in tandem in furthering their own interest whereby the CBI has adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with Governments of the day and its willingness and commitment to serve their mai baaps interest for post retirement lollipops. See how an ex-CBI chief was made member of the Human Rights Commission after retirement.
Similarly, the CBI has a history of burying huge scams under mountains of bureaucratic red tape, is unable to meet judicial scrutiny standards in high-profile and politically sensitive cases or puts them under the lid for a long period till public memory gets exhausted. Alongside, unqualified and incompetent workforce with 15% executive rank, 28.37% law officers and 56.17%technical posts lying vacant. Systemic issues indicative of a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics.
Thanks to cases being registered hesitantly, searches and investigations delayed unduly, charge-sheets poorly filed, arrests scrupulously avoided and convictions rare. The Vyapan scam is history, the accused in the 2G scam were exonerated, Chidambaram’s Aircel Maxis case is progressing at snail’s pace etc.
The constant display of CBI’s non-performance in ensuring deterrent punishment to accused netas clearly erodes public trust in the criminal justice system as it has failed to establish its image to fight corruption without prejudice for which it was created in 1963. Today it has metamorphosed into a Frankenstein’s monster and is working on selective principles of applicability of law to preserve Jungle Raj within
What next? For starters the CBI director should be given powers akin to a Government secretary and report directly to the Prime Minister without going through the Personnel Department. A separate budgetary allocation shouldl be made for CBI. Along-with a charter of functions, types of offences it can investigate, nature of its superintendence and oversight. The agency should get modern facilities on par with US’s FBI and UK’s Scotland Yard.
The details of cases wherein charges have not been framed by trial courts despite the charge sheets having been filed by CBI for more than one year should be shared by the CBI Director with respective High Courts registrar generals. Also it needs to restructure, increase its divisions/wings by creating 734 additional posts to rid its stereotypical defence of lacking manpower, funds and facilities to conduct investigations.
It remains to seen it the Prime Minister will surprise and silence his rivals by seizing the moment and gather political will to make the CBI independent? Will it uphold the Constitutional rights and liberty of people and perform in an increasingly complex time? For how long are we going to mortgage our conscience to corrupt and tainted leaders?
The Court has shown the way. Will our netas now desist from playing havoc with the CBI and unshackle it from its tainted tentacles. The ball is now in the Government’s court. It needs to urgently answer a pointed question: Kiska danda, kiski laathi aur kiski bhains? The buck stops at Modi’s doorstep. .