Needed an eagle, not a parrot

The CBI is in the news again – in fact, it is in the dock. The Supreme Court, disappointed with CBI sharing the status report in the coal blocks allocation scam with the Law Minister and joint secretaries of the PMO and the Coal Ministry, called it “a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”. The apex court was anguished by the “sordid saga” and observed that the CBI must know how to stand up against the pulls and pressures of the government and its officials.

The court has asked the government to come up with specific suggestions to insulate the CBI from external interference. Actually, this has been discussed for the last nearly 35 years, but the Government of India always found it convenient to continue the existing nebulous arrangement. The CBI, it may be recalled, was constituted through a Resolution dated April 1, 1963 and it derives the power to investigate offences from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946.

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”.

Later, in 1997, the Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines in the Vineet Narain case to give functional autonomy to the CBI. It prescribed a procedure for the selection of Director CBI, gave him two-year tenure irrespective of the date of superannuation, entrusted Chief Vigilance Commissioner with superintendence over the CBI, and struck down the single point directive which gave immunity to officers of the rank of joint secretary and above. 

The government, however, cleverly subverted the arrangement and continued to manipulate the CBI.  A former chief of the Bureau, U S Mishra, said on December 13, 2012 that in the investigation of cases against prominent political persons, “there are influences to keep the progress report pending or present it in a certain way”.
Mishra further admitted that he faced this predicament while supervising the disproportionate assets cases against Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. The government also managed to select pliable officers as Director CBI and dangled before them the carrot of post-retirement sops. They were appointed Member NHRC, Member UPSC and given gubernatorial posting.

Justice J S Verma, author of the famous judgment, lamented that “even now the CBI continues to disappoint the people whenever it deals with cases against the powerful”. He said that “it is too much of a coincidence that in sensitive matters, the outcome of the CBI’s investigation invariably depends on the political equation of the accused with the ruling power, and it changes without compunction with the change in that equation”.

The 19th Report of the parliamentary standing committee (2007) emphasised the need for a separate Act for the CBI “in tune with requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality”. The Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) also said that “a new law should be enacted to govern the working of the CBI”. The 24th Report of the parliamentary standing committee (2008) deplored political interference in the functioning of the CBI and expressed its unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources”. The committee went on to say that the CBI should be supported by an “infallible legal fabric” and suggested giving it “adequate statutory support”.

Statutory backing

Another parliamentary committee, whose report was tabled in the parliament on March 20, 2013, gave its “considered view that a solid statutory backing is needed for CBI and that the DSPE Act, 1946 is grossly inadequate to cater to CBI which is an organisation whose mandate has increased manifold”.

The Lokpal Bill, which has already been cleared by the cabinet, provides that the Director CBI shall be appointed by a three-member collegium comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. This should ensure the best possible selection.

It is high time that a separate Act is legislated to define the organisational framework, functions and powers of the Central Bureau of Investigation. The huge deficiencies in its manpower must be filled up; besides, there should be substantial augmentation in staff in view of its increasing workload. The organisation must also have financial autonomy. Above all, the CBI should be vested with statutory powers on the lines of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Such a measure would ensure autonomy in the real sense of the term and go a long way in ensuring the organisation’s independence, objectivity and impartiality.

The court wants the parrot to be freed. A parrot used to the comforts of cage has a tendency to return to the cage even after it is freed. Perhaps, a better imagery would be that of an eagle which would swoop down on the corrupt without giving them a chance.

(The writer is a retired Police chief)

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