CBI: A CAGED PARROT?

  • Category
    Ethics
  • Published
    28th Feb, 2019

Issue

Context:
Recently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials, in connection with the investigation on Saradha Chit Fund Scam, were stopped by the West Bengal (WB) government from entering the premises of Kolkata Police Commissioner, Rajeev Kumar. The political controversy ensued bringing back the autonomy of CBI and conduct of the WB government in public discourse.

CBI has also been in news due to its internal factions, corruption, and alleged use of CBI, time and again, to settle political scores by the central government with the opposition.

Background:

CBI is the premier investigating agency of India with a scope covering all departments of Central Government, Union Territories, and states with the consent of respective state governments. It originated in the form of a Special Police Establishment under Government of India in 1941 to investigate bribery and corruption in transactions in the War and Supply Department of India.

In 1946, it was transferred to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) through Delhi Special Police Establishment (DPSE) Act, 1946. DPSE got it name as CBI in 1963 following recommendation of Santhanam Committee and through a resolution of MHA. Thus, CBI is not a statutory body.

CBI main role concerns with prevention of corruption and maintenance of integrity in the administration, and major crimes in the country having National and International ramifications. Major divisions of CBI are: Anti-Corruption Division, Special Crimes Division, Economic Offences Division, etc. among others.

The agency comes under the administrative jurisdiction of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. For corruption cases under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has supervisory role over CBI following the Vineet Narain judgement of Supreme Court, 1997.

About:

Present case:

CBI is investigating Saradha Chit-Fund Scam in which several politicians from West Bengal have alleged to have connivance. Kolkata police commissioner, Rajeev Kumar, led the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigation into the scams until 2014 when CBI took over following directions from the Supreme Court. The CBI was slated to question Kumar about some missing documents and alleged destruction of evidence.

However, when CBI team reached Kolkata to arrest Kumar, it was stopped by the Kolkata Police from doing so. Huge political controversy followed and a contempt plea was filed by CBI in Supreme Court against Chief Secretary of WB, Director General of Police (DGP) and the Police Commissioner. Supreme Court directed Kumar to present himself for investigation and directed CBI not to arrest him.

Saradha Chit-Fund scam:

It is a major financial scam caused by collapse of Ponzi scheme, a collective investment scheme, run by Saradha group. The group collected around Rs. 20,000-30,000 cr from over 17 lakh people in various areas of West Bengal. The scheme collapsed in 2013. The state government formed SIT under Rajeev Kumar to investigate the scam. The case was transferred to CBI by SC orders.

Issues with the case:

  1. Conduct of CBI: WB government has alleged that CBI is working on the behest of central government to derail government in WB. CBI must seem to work more transparently and independently.
  2. Conduct of WB government: The CBI while filing the contempt plea in SC said that it was stopped from performing its lawful duty by the state police and state administration. An independent and transparent investigation is needed to book the perpetrators and state government should cooperate with the agency instead of blocking it from functioning.

Remarks: Chit-Fund Scam involved with money collected from poor people mainly. The involvement of local politicians in the scam and allegations of destruction of evidences by the SIT made Supreme Court to transfer the case to CBI. Supreme Court has asked Kumar to cooperate with the CBI in investigation and has asked CBI to provide evidences of destruction of evidences by Kumar in the present case. Thus, a thorough enquiry in the case is the need of the hour and cooperation with the investigating agency by all those alleged to have a connection with the case would help bring justice to the poor people of West Bengal.

Analysis

Other issues with CBI:

  1. Autonomy: Lack of enough financial and administrative autonomy in non-corruption cases has been often cited as major roadblocks in independent investigation by CBI.
  2. Dependence on MHA: For staffing, especially on deputations of IPS officers, which affects its functional autonomy.
  3. Constitutional status: CBI enjoys great power over the investigative machinery of the country, yet it derives its origin from DPSE Act, 1946 and the MHA resolution of 1963 which puts its constitutional status on shaky ground. Guwahati High Court in 2013 termed CBI unconstitutional which was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
  4. Political interference: CBI often handles sensitive cases and those of national importance. However, due to it being under the control of central government with latter having immense control over its functioning, often allegations of political misuse of CBI have been there. Misconduct or tardiness in investigation has been alleged on CBI’s part in cases like Bofor’s scam, Hawala scam, 2G scam case, coalgate scam case, etc. Due to this issue, SC, while hearing case on coalgate scam in 2013, called CBI a caged parrot.
  5. Internal faction within CBI and corruption: Recently, the allegation of corruption against each other by the special director of CBI, Rakesh Asthana, and CBI director, Alok Verma, leading to subsequent ouster of latter by CVC, brought to the fore the internal division within the ranks of CBI. Supreme Court has ordered CVC enquiry in the corruption case.
  6. The appointment of interim chief, Nageshwar Rao, by the centre bypassing the selection process under the Lok Pal Act, 2013.
  7. Police is a State subject under the Indian Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which the CBI has to follow makes it a police agency. Thus, CBI requires consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State. Section 6A of DPSE Act, which was termed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014, also was a roadblock in CBI functioning.

How to make CBI more effective?

  • Statutory backing: A formal, legal framework for CBI for effective and independent functioning.
  • Checking political interference in appointment: The Lokpal Act, 2013 provides for a 3-member selection committee comprising of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition (LoP) and the Chief Justice of India for appointment of director of CBI.The procedure must be followed in letter and spirit.
  • Accountability to Parliament: Like Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), parliamentary oversight would ensure better accountability, reduce chances of political misuse, and increase its credibilty. 
  • Dedicated cadre: Dedicated officers of its own without depending upon deputations. CVC provides for tenurial stability of 2 years which must be respected for transparent and independent investigations as well.

Conclusion:

The CBI has high conviction rate (~65-70%) when compared with state police. The needed reforms would make CBI more autonomous and effective in handling cases. CBI must also take corrective steps to contain internal rivalries and factions and follow set procedures to work more transparently and effectively to carry out their mandate and live up to the expectations of the people.

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