It’s five years since the law has been amended to make l’affaire CBI more transparent. But does the recent Kolkata episode rekindle the fear that it is a ‘caged parrot’, and not a professional investigative agency, as envisaged by the legislature and the SC?
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the premier investigating agency of the country. A democracy is as strong as its vital institutions; the CBI is one such vital institution. Its efficient functioning and the integrity of its officers hugely contribute to good governance in general and efficacy of the criminal justice system in particular. It is, therefore, critical that the CBI remains in fine fettle and proves worthy of the faith and trust reposed in it by the people of India.
The CBI has been in the news in the last couple of months for reasons which cannot be said to be edifying. Its image seems to have taken a beating due to internal dissensions and alleged political affiliations of its superior ranks. This was not always the case. There was a time when the organisation and its officers were known for their unimpeachable integrity and professional rigour.
The Special Police Establishment was set up by the Central government through an Executive Order in 1941. In 1943, the Cent-ral government issued an ordinance constituting Special Police Force, vested with the powers to investigate certain offences committed by the officials of the Central government. The Ordinance was replaced by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (DSPE Act). The Superintendence of DSPE was transferred to the Home department and its functioning was enlarged to cover all the departments of the Central government.
The CBI is the successor organisation of DSPE. It continues to function under the DSPE Act. Its mandate has exponentially expanded over time to investigate all crimes notified by the Central government under Section 3 of the DSPE Act. It has unimpeded jurisdiction over all Central government ministries/ departments, the Central government PSUs and in the Union Territories. However, the CBI needs consent of the State governments under Section 5 of the DSPE Act to carry out investigation in their territories. Consequentially, withdrawal of consent by a particular state government would terminate CBI’s jurisdiction and this, often, happens. The governments of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have withdrawn their consent only in the recent past.
The CBI can rightfully be credited with successfully investigating most sensational crimes of the day, having trans-national ramifications and dimensions, including assassinations, hijackings, terrorist crimes and bank frauds involving thousands of crores of rupees. Convictions secured by the CBI in the assassination cases of Shri Rajiv Gandhi and Sardar Beant Singh, in Bombay Blast Case and in Chandigarh and Kandhar hijacking cases illustrate the point. Securing conviction in Dera Sachcha Sauda cases in the last couple of months is a fresh feather in its cap. Furthermore, the credit for the vindication of Dr Nambi Narayan, a top ISRO scientist of the day, from a false criminal charge, also goes to the CBI. Besides, the CBI has also successfully secured extradition of top-notch fugitive criminals from the foreign lands. In short, CBI has largely lived up to its motto of INDUSTRY, IMPARTIALITY and INTEGRITY.
Unfortunately, questions are now being raised about the CBI’s functioning in various fora. A former CJI called it “a caged parrot”, meaning thereby that it speaks the language of its masters. Is there any truth in such an appellation?
I wish to emphasise that the CBI is largely a one man show run by the Director. He is not only the administrative head of the organisation but also the chief investigator who exercises his supervisory powers under Section 36 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. His is the last word in criminal investigations. This being the legal position, it is very important that the director should be a man of unimpeachable integrity and deep professional rigour. Besides, he should also be politically neutral. If he lacks any of these three qualities, he is not likely to make a mark. Nor would the organisation carry credibility with the public at large.
It is, perhaps, keeping this in mind that the DSPE Act was amended a few years back to the effect that the director would be appointed by a high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister of India, with the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, as its members. Besides, a fixed tenure of two years was also given to the director to give him political insularity.
Has it improved the system?
It is not possible to give a categorical and unambiguous response to this question. I have no doubt in my mind that if the CBI is to be resurrected, some urgent ameliorative steps need to be taken.
First and foremost, the best IPS officer in the country having a considerable CBI experience should be appointed its director, unmindful of all other considerations. This is not only good for the organisation per se but also equally good for the government of the day inasmuch as it would not have to face the kind of embarrassment that it has faced in the recent past.
Second, experience shows that fixity of tenure of director has not served the purpose it was meant to serve and has not led to professional upgradation of the agency. On the contrary, this privilege has been misused by certain uncouth and unscrupulous directors as a licence to wantonly exercise their powers for personal aggrandisement to the detriment of organisational interest. Such proclivity needs to be curbed. There appears to be a case for the Central government to constitute an oversight panel consisting of two or three retired directors to oversee CBI’s functioning in a general sense, without interfering in the investigative process. This experiment needs to be tried.
Third, indiscriminate application of tenure rules to the CBI Officers on the pattern of CPOs has resulted in the loss of valuable human assets to the organisation. The organisation needs continuity. Every police officer is not a natural investigator per se. He needs training and experience to learn the job. Short tenures, as at present, scuttle this process. The IPS officers, therefore, need to be given extended tenures while on deputation to the CBI. This would enable them to develop professional skills which are the need of the hour.
Lastly, integrity of some CBI officers has become a matter of concern. This has eroded the value of the organisation which it can ill-afford. The top management of CBI must intervene to reverse the process. I am confident that if the above steps are taken, the CBI will regain its past glory.
(The author is former special director, CBI)...