Unleashing CBI

The report of a parliamentary standing committee, which was tabled in Parliament last week, recommending the conferment of statutory powers to the CBI to investigate corruption charges anywhere in the country without the consent of the states is bound to become controversial.

The committee considers a federal legislation on investigation of corruption, on the lines of the National Investigation Act of 2008, is the ‘dire need of the hour.’ But in an environment where the setting up of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre and even greater powers for the BSF and the RPF have been staunchly opposed by many states on the ground that they would encroach upon their powers, the latest recommendation is bound to find no takers. The committee feels that empowering the CBI to prosecute certain class of offences without the states’ concurrence may be possible. The precedent it cites is the NIA legislation.

The attorney-general, whose opinion was sought, had a different view and felt that the proposal might go against the federal structure of the Constitution. In spite of that the committee has recommended to the government to consider such a legislation. The Central government’s view on the matter is not known. But even Congress-ruled governments might find it difficult to support the suggestion because today’s ruling party might be the opposition at a later date. This is especially so when the CBI is not an independent body and is often used by the Centre for its political objectives. Corruption is different from terrorism and the Centre can easily harass and persecute parties ruling in states. To raise a corruption charge against a leader in a state and unleash the CBI on him or her is not difficult.

Corruption is a major issue but the setting up of Lokpal with the power to use the CBI for its investigation will go some way in dealing with the problem. It should be noted that even the setting up of Lokayuktas at the state level has been opposed by some governments. No Central government has even considered the idea of making the CBI an independent agency. It is correct that many states have not given their concurrence to investigation by the CBI in cases where they were needed. But it is doubtful if the proposal will move forward as it is certain to be rejected by states.

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