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[Burning Issue] Central Bureau of Investigation

Context

The 1985 batch officer from Maharashtra cadre, and currently posted as director-general of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Subodh Kumar Jaiswal has been appointed as the new director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accused the government of adopting a “casual and superficial” approach in selecting the new CBI director and questioned the shortlisting process, saying it is in conflict with the mandate of the selection committee.

Background

  • The Bureau of Investigation traces its origins to the Special Police Establishment, a Central Government Police force, which was set up in 1941 by the Government of India to investigate bribery and corruption in transactions with the War and Supply Department of India.
  •  It had its headquarters in Lahore. The first legal adviser of the War Department was Rai Sahib Karam Chand Jain.
  • After the end of the war, there was a continued need for a central governmental agency to investigate bribery and corruption by central-government employees.
  • The DSPE acquired its popular current name, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), through a Home Ministry resolution dated 1.4.1963. The founding director of the CBI was D. P. Kohli, who held office from 1 April 1963 to 31 May 1968.
  • The CBI established a reputation as India’s foremost investigative agency with the resources for complicated cases, and it was requested to assist the investigation of crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and terrorism.
  •  In 1987, the CBI was divided into the following divisions: the Anti-Corruption Division, the Special Crimes Division, the Economic Offences Division, the Policy and International Police Cooperation Division, the Administration Division, the Directorate of Prosecution Division, and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory Division.

Mandate of CBI

  • The CBI is the main investigating agency of the GOI. It is not a statutory body; it derives its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. 
  • Its important role is to prevent corruption and maintain integrity in administration. It works under the supervision of the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) in matters pertaining to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. 
  • Investigate cases connected to infringement of economic and fiscal laws, i.e., breach of laws concerning customs and central excise, export and import control, income tax, foreign exchange regulations, etc. But cases of this nature are taken up by the CBI either at the request of the department concerned or in consultation with the concerned department.
  • Investigate crimes of a serious nature that have national and international ramifications, and committed by professional criminals or organized gangs.
  • To coordinate the activities of the various state police forces and anti-corruption agencies.
  • At the behest of a state govt., the CBI can also take up any case of public importance and investigate it.
  • Maintaining crime statistics and disseminating criminal information.
  • The CBI is India’s representative for correspondence with the INTERPOL. 

Notable cases cracked by CBI

  • Bhanwri Devi missing case: Jat leader and former Rajasthan minister Mahipal Maderna, Congress MLA Malkhan Singh and Bhanwari’s husband Amarchand were all part of the conspiracy to abduct and eliminate Bhanwari. Bhanwari had threatened to expose Malkhan’s relationship with her at the Bishnoi mahapanchayat.  Maderna, Malkhan, the three kidnappers and Sahiram along with Amarchand were arrested by the CBI.
  • Noida double murder case: In May 2008, the nation was shocked with the sensational double murders in Noida. The victims were Arushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade. Initially, there was no clarity about the motive or the perpetrator of this ghastly crime. After a lengthy investigation which spanned close to 6 years, the CBI based on circumstantial evidence established that the parents of Aarushi Talwar, Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar were the perpetrators of this crime. 
  • The Satyam Case:  B Ramalinga Raju, the disgraced chairman of Satyam Computers Services Ltd, along with 13 individuals and entities including Chintalapati Srinivasa Raju of iLabs, made Rs 2,000 crore in illegal wealth in the Satyam scam. The CBI constituted a Multi-Disciplinary Investigation Team (MDIT) to investigate the case. The team worked hard, burnt midnight oil and achieved success in a record time of 45 days when it filed its first chargesheet against the accused for offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and falsification of accounts.

Issues with CBI

  • The Supreme Court of India has criticised the CBI by calling it a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”, due to excessive political interference in its functioning.
  • It has often been used by the government of the day to cover up wrongdoing, keep coalition allies in line and political opponents at bay.
  • It has been accused of enormous delays in concluding investigations – For example, the inertia in its probe against the high dignitaries in Jain hawala diaries case [of the 1990s].
  • Loss of Credibility: Improving the image of the agency is one of the biggest challenges till now as the agency has been criticised for its mismanagement of several cases involving prominent politicians and mishandling of several sensitive cases like Bofors scandal; Hawala scandal, Sant Singh Chatwal case, Bhopal gas tragedy, 2008 Noida double murder case(Aarushi Talwar).
  • Lack of Accountability: CBI is exempted from the provisions of the Right to Information Act, thus, lacking public accountability.
  • Acute shortage of personnel: A major cause of the shortfall is the government’s sheer mismanagement of CBI’s workforce, through a system of inefficient, and inexplicably biased, recruitment policies – used to bring in favoured officers, possibly to the detriment of the organisation.
  • Limited Powers: The powers and jurisdiction of members of the CBI for investigation are subject to the consent of the State Govt., thus limiting the extent of investigation by CBI.
  • Restricted Access: Prior approval of Central Government to conduct inquiry or investigation on the employees of the Central Government, of the level of Joint Secretary and above is a big obstacle in combating corruption at higher levels of bureaucracy.

Why was it called caged carrot by the Supreme Court?

  • Politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been a work in progress for years.
  • Corruption and Politically biased: This was highlighted in Supreme Court criticism for being a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice.
  • CBI has been accused of becoming ‘handmaiden’ to the party in power; as a result high profile cases are not treated seriously.
  • Since CBI is run by central police officials on deputation hence chances of getting influenced by government was visible in the hope of better future postings.

Way Forward

  • Need for autonomy:   As long as the government of the day has the power to transfer and post officials of its choice in the CBI, the investigating agency will not enjoy autonomy and will be unable to investigate cases freely. A new CBI Act should be promulgated that ensures the autonomy of CBI while at the same time improving the quality of supervision.
  • Selection of director/ Officers: 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 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. 
  • CBI should be bifurcated into an Anti-Corruption Body and a National Crime Bureau.
  • A comprehensive new central law should govern the working of the institution. The law should specifically provide for appointment of a special public prosecutor who will have full independence to deal with the politically and nationally sensitive cases and take a stand safeguarding public interest.
  • Develop own cadre: One of the demands that have 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.
  • Annual social audit should be carried out by ten reputed, knowledgeable persons with background of law, justice, public affairs and administration and the audit report should be placed before the parliament.
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