• kewal sethi

taming the cbi


taming the CBI

kewal krishan sethi

after the supreme court remarks about CBI being a caged parrot, everyone is talking about independence of CBI. this has set me thinking. independence from whom? unless this is decided the arguments cannot even begin.

what is the job of CBI? to investigate matters referred to it by the government. sometimes the high courts and the supreme court ask it to investigate. there is no statute which lays down that a particular category of crimes or offences will be investigated by it.

then who compromise the CBI? some officers deputed from the regular IPS cadre. there are some direct recruits also. neither of the two categories have any special training for investigating. the capabilities of the officers in the states is as good as any in the CBI. it is not clear why it is thought that their investigation will be better than that of the officers not deputed to it.

still the cases are referred to it. why? when there is heat on the state government that the criminals responsible for a crime are not being booked or that the matter involves high ups, the case is referred to CBI. take the case of murder of shiela masood. what is different about it from any other murder case? but allegations based on her friendship with an MLA of the ruling party emerge. there is nothing to suggest that murder was designed or directed by him but, just to play safe, state government refers the case to CBI. there is the other party ruling at the centre and thus the wind is taken out of the sails of the protestors. even the collapse of a building is referred to CBI for a similar reason to get over an embarrassing situation.

it is not the experience of anyone that investigation by CBI are faster and expeditious. they take years to reach a conclusion and the conclusion is not always right. there are politicians involved in some cases but even where they are not, the investigations drag on and may go awry. take the case of murder of arushi and hemraj. an ordinary crime case is referred to CBI because of media highlighting the issue since a young girl is involved. CBI investigates and then files a closure report. this is rejected by the court. what political pressure was there to reach the conclusion that there is no conclusion?

CBI is not directly in charge of law and order situation. it is for the state police to do that. the investigations are just a part of their work. they have to work with the politicians to maintain law and order. this exposes them to a policy of give and take. for this reason, they may have to tailor the investigations in a certain direction. CBI has no such restraints. if still they cannot complete the investigations, the fault does not lie with political interference. probably it is due to looking over the shoulder for rewards after the tenure. as director, the person is on the highest post of his career. there is no promotion to look forward to and the confidential reports, the life line of officers at other levels, do not matter now. he can afford to be independent. if he is not, it is his choice, not compulsion. having a statutory status is immaterial. if he is looking for rewards, he will still bend. there are no free meals.

it can be clarified that it is not only a post which he is looking forward to. public image is also an attraction. tv shows, invitation for talk show at various events is also an attraction which can make a mockery of the independence. he is, in this case, not kowtowing to political bosses but to the media which, he expects, will highlight his achievements (sic). dashing to geneva to fetch important papers which can be, and were, delivered by ordinary courier are part of these tactics. glamour and not objective investigation suits them.

if there is no desire for a post retirement green pasture, the independence is guaranteed. there is no bar to it. in the normal state practice, it is common to give marching orders to inconvenient player. at the height of director CBI, even that is not a practical preposition. it attracts too much adverse publicity and only the most shameless politician will attempt it.

it is suggested by some that this avoidance for longing for post retirement allurement can be made statutory. give the person a longer tenure and prohibit further employment in any capacity – governor, member parliament, minister, member or chairman of commission, advisor or anything else. will it work? may be. it depends upon an individual. driving from the back seat can also be practiced. there are no declared pretensions but the mind is still there and there are front men.

and if this solution is found good for director CBI, why not apply it to others. what about the judges? we expect them to be independent. if they are perceived as such even while being eligible for a host of permanent or temporary commissions of enquiries and even declaring themselves as the only suitable candidates for some of them, why can the director CBI not be looked upon as such.

what then is the solution proposed? we shall revert to the question – independence from whom? independence does not mean being responsible to no one. such a situation will turn an organization into a monster. it will ride roughshod over truth and objectivity and be not answerable to any one for it (like ISI in a neighbouring country but we have our own also in the backyard). in a democracy, no one can be, or should be, independent. it is against the grain of democracy. democracy is a game of checks and balances. judiciary is there to check the executive; CAG is there to check the financial irregularities; CVC is there to check graft and much else. article 356 is there to check on the states. CBI also has to be checked by somebody. it cannot be left as an unbridled horse which may, at times, run amuck. if it is not the government to which it reports and which will check its waywardness, whom does it report to. reporting to supreme court is out of question. by the principles of natural justice, the investigations and adjudication cannot be with the same body. we have the example of hawala scam. the court directed investigation and almost forced challans to be put up, only to come to conclusion that no case is made out. it was a fortunate conclusion but may not always be so.

if not the courts or the government, who else is left? obviously that leaves the public at large. after all they are the ultimate masters in democracy, not the government of the day or the courts. the agencies exist for their sake, not for their own welfare. but how does the public exercise that control. once again the solution suggests itself. they do it through their representatives. they have already selected them for the parliament. whatever be their shortcomings, they are still their representatives. CBI can, and should, report to them. a permanent committee can be constituted to look after the CBI. its hearings will be open (through tv broadcasts) and the public can judge for themselves how the things are moving. there will be partisan views but that is common to all such committees and, hopefully, this malady will be cured in due course. this is not the occasion to discuss that aspect. but it is certain that it will be better than CBI reporting to the government or making CBI a statutory organization.


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