CBI: The myth of the caged parrot
Nothing should be done to lower the authority of the Executive
Hans Raj Bhardwaj Delhi
In recent times there have serious allegations of corruption against some Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials. The Supreme Court (SC) has taken a tough view of the kind of people that figured in visitors register maintained at the residence of Ranjit Sinha, the former Director, CBI, who retired earlier this month. The CBI’s image has been hurt by these allegations. This is rather unfortunate. Central Bureau of investigation is an outcome of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act of 1941 to investigate bribery and corruption during the war years. In those days there were allegations of the business class bribing government servants to corner contracts. Earlier, the headquarters of Special Police Establishment was located in Lahore and after the war ended, it became part of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Delhi and all central government departments were covered. Subsequently, India’s first Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Patel, endeavored to use DSPE to weed out corruption in the princely states. It was in 1963 that CBI came into being through a MHA resolution. It is due to this reason and more CBI’s locus standi has been challenged many times as law and order is a state subject and many states perceive its probe as an attempt to undermine the federal structure It was due to this reason that there has been reluctance to have a central act to create a federal agency.
In later years, the courts began to hand over investigation into cases of corruption that may have originated in the states to the CBI. The main reason for asking CBI to probe these cases was due to the manifest fall in the capacity of the state police to conduct fair investigation in politically sensitive cases. There is no reason to hand over the cases to the CBI, if the state police had been doing their job well. The CBI’s mandate has gone beyond just looking into cases of corruption and goes into instances of black money, rape, antique smuggling and so on. For years it built a formidable reputation as the premier investigating agency.
In 1991, during the investigation of the famous Jain Hawala scandal, there were accusations that the agency sat on a diary of a businessman containing names of politically powerful people and bureaucrats. Some public minded individuals filed public interest litigation (PIL) in the SC to ensure that the CBI was not subject to any pressure. After overseeing the probe for some time, the apex court issued order in what is famously known as ‘Vineet Narain & others’ case that sought to immune the agency from political interference. This order gave supervisory powers to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). This order also gave security of tenure to the CBI Director to allow him to act independently without fear or favor. I personally feel that it depends upon an individual what he wants to make out of that job and that no one can meddle in the work of the investigators.
I have always felt that the business of appointment of CBI Director should vest with the executive. They should be appointed by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet as it was done in the past. To make it fairer still, a process similar to the appointment of judges could be followed. I do not see any wisdom in the leader of the opposition becoming part of the process. Similarly, I have misgivings about the appointment of Lokpal, too! Why should it be created to lower the authority of the Executive? I was opposed to the creation of the National Investigating Agency also and I felt that for whatever reasons it was being created, the CBI could have been adequately empowered, but the MHA had other ideas.
As told to Hardnews.
The writer is former governor, Karnataka and Union Law Minister.