- The recent happenings at the CBI are unprecedented. Never has the premier investigating agency of the country been in similar crisis. These events will have ramifications on the dignity, discipline and image of CBI.
- The question that should be troubling us is how are things so opaque within our investigative agency?
- With serious charges and counter-charges flying thick and fast, the ordinary citizen may be left wondering as to what really goes on behind closed doors at the CBI.
- Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is India’s premier investigating agency that handles all high-profile cases. Its job is to ensure a fair and an impartial probe.
- But, recently in October 2018, two of the top officials of the agency have been reported to be involved in a major feud. This has led the Government of India to intervene in order to restore the institutional integrity and credibility of CBI.
- Origins of CBI can be traced back to the Special Police Establishment (SPE) set up in 1941 in order to cases of bribery and corruption in War & Supply Department of India during World War II.
- The need of a Central Government agency to investigate cases of bribery and corruption was felt even after the end of World War II. So, DSPE (Delhi Special Police Establishment) Act, 1946 was brought that gave legal power of investigating cases to CBI.
- CBI is not a statutory body as it is not established by an Act of the Parliament.
- CBI investigates cases related to economic crimes, special crimes, cases of corruption and other high-profile cases.
- CBI comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. Various organizations under this Ministry are Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), CBI, Central Information Commission (CIC), etc.
- CBI is exempted from Right to Information (RTI) Act similar to National Investigating Agency (NIA), National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), etc.
- CBI is headed by a Director, an IPS (Indian Police Service) officer of the rank of Director General of Police. The director is selected based on CVC Act, 2003 for two years-term. Several other ranks in CBI are filled through recruitment by SSC or deputation from Police, Income Tax Department and Customs Department.
- The appointment procedure of CBI Director has undergone several changes over time.
The CBI is subject to three ministries of the Government of India and Two Constitutional bodies
- Ministry of Home Affairs: Cadre Clearance
- DoPT: Administration, Budget and Induction of non IPS officers
- Union Public Service Commission: Officers of and above the rank of Deputy Secretary.
- Law and Justice Ministry: Public prosecutors
- Central Vigilance Commission: Anti-corruption cases.
Present Issue went to SC: Supreme court orders CVC To Enquire Against Alok Verma
- The Supreme Court ordered Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its ongoing inquiry against exiled CBI Director AlokVerma in two weeks.
- The CVC inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of Former Apex Court judge, Justice A.K.Patnaik.
- Mr.Nageswara Rao will take care of only routine tasks to keep the CBI functioning. He is barred from taking any major or policy decisions.
- All the decisions taken by Mr. Rao (as a Director of CBI) “from October 23 up to this hour” have come under scanner of the Supreme Court.
- The Court asked the list of all decisions taken by Mr. Rao to be placed before the Bench on November 12 in a sealed cover.
The Crisis Is Not About CBI, It’s About the Rule of Law:
- It is perhaps futile to lament that the politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been a work in progress for years and that the midnight coup was only its latest manifestation
- But this is not about two IPS officers; it is not even about the CBI or its presumed image or its subverted autonomy, It is about the future of the rule of law.
- It played a pivotal role in criminal justice delivery as highlighted in tough cases like Satyam scam investigation, Bhanvari Devi Murder etc.
- However myriad of responsibilities over categories like Corruption & fraud, economic crimes, special crimes including terrorist attacks has overburdened it and reduced its efficiency.
Problems associated with CBI:
- The agency is dependent on the home ministry for staffing, since many of its investigators come from the Indian Police Service.
- The agency depends on the law ministry for lawyers and also lacks functional autonomy to some extent.
- The CBI, run by IPS officers on deputation, is also susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers, because they are dependent on the Central government for future postings.
- Another great constraint on the CBI is its dependence on State governments for invoking its authority to investigate cases in a State, even when such investigation targets a Central government employee.
- Since police is a State subject under the Constitution, and the CBI acts as per the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which makes it a police agency, the CBI needs the consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State. This is a cumbersome procedure and has led to some ridiculous situations.
Criticism and inaction
- The CBI has been criticised from time to time. Justice J.S. Verma in an article published in 2009 stated that “it is sad that even now the CBI continues to disappoint the people whenever it deals with cases against the powerful”.
- The Supreme Court [in 2013] called it a “caged parrot”.
- The criticism is valid, but can we hold the CBI responsible for that? Successive committees at different periods of time suggested changes in the composition and structure of the CBI.
- As far back as 1978, the L.P. Singh Committee recommended the “enactment of a comprehensive central legislation to remove the deficiency of not having a central investigative agency with a self-sufficient statutory charter of duties and functions”.
- The 19th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2007) recommended that a separate Act should be promulgated for the CBI “in tune with the requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality”.
- The 24th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2008) was of the unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources”. It is unfortunate that none of these recommendations were acted upon.
Who is to blame then?
- The government or the CBI? It is unfair to blame the organisation when it is not given the required legal mandate, when it is not provided with the requisite manpower and financial resources.
- It is true that some of the recent Directors of the CBI brought a bad name to the organisation, but the truth of the matter is that in their cases the selection process was subverted or tweaked and protégés of influential politicians posted.
- The fault is not so much of the organisation as of the people who shape its structure and define its powers.
- It is a matter of common experience that every time there is a sensational case, the popular demand is for a CBI investigation.
- The CBI is a first-class investigating agency as long as the government does not interfere with or influence its functioning.
What will be the Way Forward?
Rule of law is much more than a set of interlocking procedures and principles; it is a sense of shared confidence among citizens and other constitutional stakeholders that values of justness and fairness are not subject to the whims and fancies of the rulers of the day.
- The first reform is to ensure that CBI operates under a formal, modern legal framework that has been written for a contemporary investigative agency.
- A new CBI Act should be promulgated that ensures the autonomy of CBI while at the same time improving the quality of supervision.
- The Lokpal Act already calls for a three-member committee made up of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice of the Supreme Court to select the director. However, not enough has been done to administratively protect CBI from political interference. For this to happen, the new Act must specify criminal culpability for government interference.
- One of the demands that has been before Supreme Court, and in line with international best practices, is for the CBI to develop its own dedicated cadre of officers who are not bothered about deputation and abrupt transfers.
- The CBI did recruit some officers in the past to its cadre, but that effort has gone nowhere, and all senior posts in the CBI are now held by Indian Police Service (IPS) officers.
- It is also possible to consider granting the CBI and other federal investigation agencies the kind of autonomy that the Comptroller and Auditor General enjoys as he is only accountable to Parliament.
- A more efficient parliamentary oversight over the federal criminal and intelligence agencies could be a way forward to ensure better accountability, despite concerns regarding political misuse of the oversight.
- To ensure that the CBI is a robust, independent and credible investigation agency, there is an urgent need to work out a much more transparent mechanism for selection of the Director and induction of officers on deputation.
- The tenure of the Director needs to be enhanced, terms of officers made sacrosanct and the CBI given reasonable financial and administrative autonomy if it has to live up to its motto of ‘Industry, Impartiality and Integrity’.