Home / Politics / Policy /  CBI’s image takes a beating with cases against former directors

New Delhi: On Monday, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was at the receiving end when it booked its former director A.P. Singh as an accused under the Prevention of Corruption Act and to probe his relationship with meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

The development comes close on the heels of the agency’s probe against another former director, Ranjit Sinha, who was Singh’s successor, on the charge of tampering with investigation in the coal block allocation scam.

In hindsight, the arrest seems inevitable. It was an ultimate humiliation for the country’s premier investigative agency, but all the signs over the past decade or so have been pointing towards this decision.

From being unable to close disproportionate assets case against leading politicians such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati to seeking closure of the Bofors pay-off case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi to making a mess of the Aarushi Talwar case, bad news for the CBI has been piling up for some time now.

But the real bad phase began for the CBI in 2013 when it owned up to sharing information of its investigations on the coal block allocation scam with bureaucrats in the Prime Minister’s Office and the coal ministry at the behest of the then law minister, Ashwani Kumar .

That admission alone had prompted outrage and several editorials titled, Compromised Bureau of Investigation. The Supreme Court described it as a “caged parrot" which has many masters.

The CBI was set up by the British in 1941 to investigate corruption in government offices during World War II though it was then named as the Special Police Establishment (SPE). The SPE was re-named and its duties re-defined in 1963 under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946. In a piece written in 2013 by Anil Chowdhary, a retired IPS officer and a former secretary, for, it was stated, “in its initial years the organization was widely respected…it was also able to maintain a much more impressive track record of securing convictions."

Chowdhary said that with the passing of the years the CBI’s charter was expanded but without any “constitutional back-up to define its role and responsibilities, or the matching man-power".

The CBI sources its officers through state police forces and central police organizations. The lack of a force of its own, trained to handle the cases that are assigned to the CBI has been a major hindrance in its performance. And then there is the tendency of political parties in power to treat it as their own investigative agency against political opponents. A few years ago Prakash Singh, former director-general of police, had filed a PIL seeking greater autonomy for the investigative agency but nothing much has come out of it.

At present, the CBI chief’s appointment is overseen by the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition (LoP) but even this is a system fraught with loopholes as the furore over the recent appointment of Alok Kumar Verma as the new CBI chief shows.

Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, who is the LoP in the Lok Sabha, has put in writing his opposition to the fact that the main contender for the job R.K. Dutta was moved to the home ministry days before the previous chief Anil Kumar Sinha completed his tenure. “Everybody wants control. It’s not just enough to have the Chief Justice and Leader of Opposition in the selection committee, there needs to a proper system in place for selection. The criterion should be laid down, ranging from age profile to seniority to experience," said Kamal Kumar, a senior IPS officer (retd.)

The issues that plague the police force in India seem to hobble the CBI also, namely political interference. “The CBI chief could be given a status like the CAG or the CEC with some checks and balances but that hasn’t happened. We do need a powerful and independent investigative agency," said Prakash Singh. According to him there are several cases, though not high-profile ones where the CBI has been at its best. “I have served in Uttar Pradesh and there were fool-proof disproportionate asset cases against leading politicians there but the CBI has been dragging its feet." The chance to investigate Sinha according to him, is a test case. “Will they try and shield their director? Will there be political pressure to let him off easily. This will be observed closely now."

The demand to confer on the CBI director a status that grants him some autonomy is not a new one.

In 2013, the Centre had opposed the agency’s demand that the director be given the status of a secretary enabling him to report directly to the minister in charge of the department of personnel and training. “The government and the bureaucracy will not give an inch towards the autonomy of the CBI," advocate Amarendra Saran, appearing for the agency had told the court then.

The thorny issue of reforms raises its head here also, something senior police officers have now been asking for, for years. As long as the police and even the CBI continue to have political masters, they will be hindered in dispatching their duties to the best of their abilities. “You need the police for crime, for law and order, for crowd control and all these are issues which impact politicians. So the desire to influence will always be there. We need to look at other successful democracies and learn lessons from them on how to let our investigative agencies be," said Kumar.

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