Wednesday, February 28, 2024

CBI in the Dock


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His Master’s Voice

By Poonam I Kaushish

What is it about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that has UPA II scurrying for cover? Makes the Congress see red? Wherein its fatal attraction for political cover-ups, clean chits, hit-ins and fool proof surety for law enforcers to become law breakers has earned it two ignominious nicknames: Congress Bureau of Investigation and Central Bureau of corruption, connivance and convenience. With the devil taking the hindmost!

Scandalously, amidst the fracas over the Government-civil society clash over the Lokpal Bill, see the sleazy and slippery ease with which the Prime Minister surreptitiously exempted the CBI from disclosing information under the Right to Information’s (RTI) Act through a notification on 9 June. Thus, making it easier for our polity to misuse the CBI.

Undeniably, the Government’s diktat of keeping the CBI away from the RTI’s prying eyes unwraps for the umpteenth time India’s best known secret: The CBI is a hand maiden of our netagan and dances to their tune. A toothless tiger used by its political mai-baaps to help their friends and settle scores with opponents. Thereby, raising serious doubts about its honesty and integrity of purpose to weed out the corrupt. What to speak of making a mockery of Manmohan Singh’s procrastinations of the so-called ‘autonomy’, and ‘independence’.

True, the much-derided investigative agency indeed did catch up with some of our political masters involved in looting the country in the 2G Spectrum scandal and the CWG sleaze. But it was no thanks to our polity. If it had its way, the muck would stay where it always does —- hidden from probing eyes. Sadly, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Kapadia spoilt our netagan’s loot party.

Notwithstanding, our polity’s animus against opening up the CBI to scrutiny under the RTI, three years ago a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the “Working of the CBI” recommended it be made an “enforcement agency” and be given “independent and autonomous” status to prevent political interference in its functioning.

It also mooted it be granted power to investigate and prosecute through a separate statute called the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation Act. And given the same status as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US to allow it to independently take up cases of high-tech crime. Not only this. Our MPs candidly confessed that granting sanction for prosecution was one of the “bottlenecks” in giving the CBI autonomy. Pertinently, it cited many instances where prosecution sanction was denied bringing the CBI into “disrepute”.

Alas, as oft happens, this all-important report, like the earlier report in 1994, was lost in the mountain of diatribe churned out session after session of Parliament. It had to. Given that over 1,300 cases are pending against MPs and MLAs in various courts. These include cases against RJD’s Lalu Yadav (chara ghotala), disproportionate assets cases against current and former UP Chief Ministers Mayawati and Mulayam.

What to say of Maya bhenji’s Taj corridor scam and the over hundreds of crores received as gifts from her poor Dalit swayam sevaks, who go hungry to pave their messiah’s path with gold. In fact, see how both the BJP and Congress kept Mayawati’s “file pending” for political benefit.

Remember, how Congress-led UPA I in connivance with the CBI ‘intentionally’ bungled and made an international mess of its case in La Affaire Quottrocchhi of the Bofors gun scam and got egg on its face. First the Government advised the UK Government to “defreeze” the Italian businessman’s accounts. And, when he was finally arrested in Argentina, the CBI failed to extradite and the Argentinian Court freed him. Last year, the CBI did one better, it dropped all charges against Mr Q and he went scot free!

Arguably, is the CBI more sinned against than sinning? Are politicians the main culprit? Is the pot calling the kettle black? The truth is mid-way. Both work in tandem in furthering their own interest. Consequently, the system becomes self-perpetuating. Over the years, the threatened political elite have given more and more powers to the CBI to get their way and have their say.

Thereby, sullying the agency’s reputation, replete with its “failure” to back up charges with required evidence. Worse, the CBI seems to have adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with Governments of the day and its willingness and commitment to serve the national cause by putting self before the country. See how the Bofors scam was scuttled. At the end no body was any wiser where the Rs 64 crores went. Never Mind it cost the late Rajiv Gandhi his Prime Ministership.

The crux of the issue: Who should control the CBI? Needless to say, a Catch-22 question for our power-greedy polity to honestly answer and for us to stupidly expect. Witness the sweet irony. When Vajpayee was the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in the late 1990’s he had demanded an independent CBI and even promised one if he came to power. But Vajpayee the Prime Minister not only conveniently forgot his promise but continued to retain the CBI under his charge, just as his predecessors had done. Beginning with Indira Gandhi, who concentrated all instruments of effective power in her own hands.

Manmohan Singh too is happily following the tradition. Over the past year he has talked ad nauseum of weeding out corruption, but is mum on making the CBI autonomous and independent. According to two former CBI directors, Joginder Singh and Kartikaiyan there is no such thing as autonomy. This is a fallacy.

For three reasons. One the agency is directly under the Prime Minister. Two, under Section 389 of the CrPC only the executive has the power to decide if the CBI should appeal any case. Three, officers are dependant on their political bosses for their careers going north or south. If they “perform” they are rewarded! See how an ex-CBI chief was made member of the Human Rights Commission post retirement.

Knowing our polity and its hypocritical culture, we will no doubt continue to hear noises or even be treated to some cosmetic measures. It is absurd nonsense to say that the CBI cannot deliver. Of course, it can as shown by the nailing of Raja, Kanimozhi and Kalmadi. But this requires clear and firm political will.

The foremost corrective is to ensure that the appointment of the CBI Director is truly above board and is based on his genuine expertise, integrity, competence and commitment. He should have no political affiliations, lest he is dubbed as the Prime Minister’s hatchet man. His impeccable record of absolute honesty would go a long way in establishing the credibility down the rank and file. This would ensure a just and unbiased assessment of all important cases. And, bring in the much-needed accountability to inspire confidence among the disgusted public.

What next? The time has come to make the investigation body a top-class outfit. Our leaders have to desist from subjecting the CBI to bureaucratic prescriptions of effecting economy in administration. India needs a sleek CBI that acts without favours and prejudice.

At the end of the day, the powers-that-be must desist from playing havoc with the CBI. They need to answer two pointed questions: Will the CBI be guided by the law of the land only or by the Government of the day? Questionably, who will cast the first stone? Kiski laathi aur kiski bhains? —- INFA



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