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CBI In The Dock:AUTONOMY? A BIG JOKE!, by Poonam I Kaushish, 21 January 2006 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 21 January 2006

CBI In The Dock


By Poonam I Kaushish

Question: name India’s premier investigating agency which is now-a-days a political tool of the powers-that-be to play favourites, give clean-chits or hit opponents?

A clue: the agency can also double up as a fool-proof surety for law enforcers to merrily become law breakers.

Answer: of course, the Central Bureau of Investigation. Today, derisively called the Congress Bureau of Investigation.

One has only to see the sordid flip-flops and somersaults  by the Government, its Law Minister and the CBI in la affaire  Quattrocchi to know what I mean. It all started about a fortnight back when an enterprising channel exposed how the Manmohan Singh Government’s law officers had bent every rule in the book and craned everyone’s imagination to favour the fugitive Italian businessman. Whose two claims to fame are his proximity to the Sonia Gandhi (or to the “Gandhi family”, as he puts it) and his involvement in the Bofors scandal. 

True, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has laboured very hard to dispel the impression that the CBI was acting under his Government’s pressure. In two written statements in a span of three days, he has vouched for the agency’s “autonomy” and asserted that no stone would be left unturned to probe Q’s complicity, if any, in the Bofors deal. Said he: “My Government has never interfered with the CBI …. The autonomy of the agency will be preserved.” Really, Mr. Prime Minister?

It is another matter that he broke his silence after the CBI took a U-turn to blame itself for Law Minister Bharadwaj and the Additional Solicitor General Dutta’s culpability, contrary to what it publicly asserted once the scandal broke. Recall, the CBI fielded its Joint Director and significantly not the Director at a hastily-convened Press Conference  to announce that what the Government’s law officer had communicated to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), namely  to ‘defreeze’ the Italian businessman’s account was, in fact, the Agency’s own view. Furthermore, there was no hanky-panky by the Government in ‘exorcising’ Quattrocchi in the Bofors scam. Notwithstanding, the e-mail made public by the CPS of the advice it had received from none less than the Law Ministry itself on 23 December last.

This scandalous development, needless to say, has unwrapped for the umpteenth time India’s best known secret: the CBI is a convenient hand maiden of our polity. Worse, it has again raised serious doubts about its honesty, integrity and impartiality in weeding out corruption and criminality.  It is today seen as a toothless tiger which is used by its political mai-baaps to bale out their friends and settle scores with opponents. Making a mockery of autonomy, independence and impartiality.  

Two former CBI directors, Joginder Singh and Karthikehan, stare the view that there is no such thing as autonomy in the true sense of the term. It has a fallacy. For two reasons. One, the agency is under the administrative control of the Government and is at present  directly under the Prime Minister. Two, CBI officers are wholly dependent on their political bosses for their careers ---postings, transfers and seniority. If they please them they are liberally rewarded in various ways, including extensions, foreign postings and even berths in statutory bodies.   

Why has its credibility suffered – and suffered so greatly?  The answer lies in the CBI’s genesis. It was set up in 1941, during World War II.  But it acquired a legal basis for its present structure only after the enactment of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act of 1946.  This provides for direct recruitment for the CBI from a Constable to the Dy. Superintendent of Police.  Senior officers of the level of Superintendents of Police and above, however, joined the CBI on deputation from the State cadres of the Indian Police Service and were engrained in the doctrine of “establishment protection”, as envisaged in the Police Act of 1861, which continues to hold good even today.

Is the CBI more sinned against than sinning?  Are politicians the main culprits?  Is the pot calling the kettle black?  The truth is mid-way.  Both work in tandem in furthering their own interest.  Consequently, the system becomes self-perpetuating.  Over the years, the threatened political elite has given more and more powers to the CBI to have their way and say.  Thereby sullying the agency’s reputation replete with its inability and “failure” to back up charges with required evidence.  Witness the notorious hawala case where the redoubtable amicus curiae still talks of having been let down by the CBI.  Almost alleging between the lines the Bureau’s ready willingness to let off a whole bunch of politicians across the board, including those who had confessed to taking money from the Hawala kingpin Surendra Jain.

Worse, the CBI seems to have adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe in a situation where governments have been changing fast, courtesy revolving-door politicians.  Thus, raising a big question mark over its honesty and integrity, as also on its willingness and commitment to serve the national cause by putting self before the country.

Sure, it has come a long way from a low-profile unit into India's premier sleuth-shop with more than 5,000 officers spread across the country. The black-marks against it are many: investigations are below average; it doesn’t recover much loot and its legal arm is nothing to write home about. Also, most cases are built on incomplete documents, unavailable witnesses and inability to pursue leads overseas, which slows the process. More often than not, it finds itself being reprimanded by the courts for not moving quickly enough. What to say of a sluggish judiciary and cumbersome court proceedings which has made our people lose faith in the CBI.

In an era where political image has come to be branded like detergents, quick-fix solutions are sought for chronic maladies.  Times out of number our netagan seem to be seeking only an image rectification through cosmetics, instead of a complete makeover as recommended by the National Police Commission of 1977, headed by the much-respected late Dharma Vira, formerly Cabinet Secretary and Governor of Punjab, West Bengal and Karnataka and including one of India’s top policemen, K.F. Rustamji.

The Commission observed: “The supremacy of the Rule of Law should be clearly spelt out and police should be guided by the Law of the Land only and they shall have the legal option to disregard all instructions running contrary to that.”  At the crux is the issue: Who should control the CBI?  The Government or an independent body? Needless to say, a Catch-22 question for our power-greedy polity to honestly answer and for us to stupidly expect.

Witness the sweet irony.  When Vajpayee was the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in the late 1990’s he had demanded an independent CBI and even promised one if he came to power. But Vajpayee the Prime Minister not only conveniently forgot his promise but continued to retain the CBI under his charge, just as his predecessors had done. Originally, the Department of Personnel and the CBI was under the Home Ministry, initially presided over by Sardar Patel. But Indira Gandhi was eager to concentrate all instruments of effective power in her own hands brought it under the Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh is happily following the tradition. Over the last year and more he has talked ad nauseum of weeding out corruption, But he has done little to make the CBI truly autonomous and independent. An agency that inspires confidence.

Unfortunately, the CBI has always been kept out of bounds and treated with kidgloves.  In fact, even Parliament has not put it under its eager microscope, despite frequent ruckus in both Houses on several CBI-related matters.  The last time the agency was given a cursory glance was in 1994 by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Home Ministry and its report thereon.  How lackadaisical is the Government’s attitude can be gauged from the distressing fact that the report continues to gather dust.

Knowing our polity and its hypocritical culture, we will no doubt continue to hear hopeful noises or even be treated to some cosmetic measures.  But it is absurd nonsense to say that the CBI cannot deliver and be set right.  It surely can. However, this requires clear and firm political will.  First and foremost, appointment of the CBI Director should be truly above board and with a fixed tenure.  He should be selected on the basis of genuine expertise, integrity, competence and commitment.

The CBI Chief  should have no political affiliation even remotely, lest he is dubbed as the Prime Minister’s hatchet man. His impeccable record would go a long way in establishing the utility and credibility of the agency down to its rank and file.  This would ensure an impartial, just and unbiased assessment of all important cases.  And, bring in the much-needed accountability to inspire confidence among the disgusted public.

A basic question that needs to be answered is: Will the CBI be guided by the law of the land only or by the Government of the day.  The powers-that-be must desist from playing further havoc with the CBI and converting it into a “Central bureau of convenience, connivance and corruption.” The moot point is: Who will cast the first stone?  “Kiski laathi aur kiski bhains?" ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)   




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