In these cynical times it does not require much imagination to believe that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can be misused for political purposes. But the events of Thursday morning in Chennai defy belief. As part of an investigation into illegal imports of foreign cars, CBI raided the home of M.K. Stalin, son of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M. Karunanidhi.
The raid took place soon after the DMK pulled out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The raids were conducted at 17 places in Chennai. Stalin’s son, Udhayanidhi Stalin, allegedly purchased one of the cars that were illegally imported. Within hours, no less than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to disavow the action by the agency that he controls directly. Even by the lax administrative standards of this government, this marks a new low. How could the country’s premier investigating agency carry out a politically sensitive raid without the knowledge of the government brass?
The political control of an allegedly impartial CBI has haunted many a government. Often, manipulation of politically sensitive cases takes place at virtually every stage: from investigation all the way to prosecution of cases in courts. For example, many times CBI exhibits “laxity” in filing affidavits in courts during trials and appeals. This leads to suspicion that legal processes are used to browbeat opposition leaders. The circuitous proceedings in disproportionate assets cases against former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, are cases in point.
Ideally, CBI would be a truly independent agency. This would entail its oversight not by ministers but possibly by a parliamentary committee. But when so many politicians are suspected of wrongdoing, this is not a solution. One feasible option is to let courts supervise it right from the stage of investigation. Under this, investigating officers would report to judges and not ministers. That will end allegations of partisanship and abuse in the agency’s functioning.
To an extent, this is already at work. In some cases, the Supreme Court has directly monitored CBI’s functioning. Perhaps the time has come to increase the ambit of this judicial control.
Who should supervise CBI: elected politicians or courts? Tell us at email@example.com