CBI Must Restore its Credibility

Parmanand Pandey

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been in the thick of controversy right from its inception in 1963 because it was not formed under the act of Parliament but by insertion of a provision under Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. However, in due course of time, it became a premier investigation agency. Since it has been working directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India, it enjoyed all-India jurisdiction. After Vineet Narain case as decided by the Supreme Court of India in 1997, it largely got insulated from the governmental interference. Perhaps this has been the reason that whenever any big case of corruption or crime has taken place anywhere in the country, there have been demands of an investigation by the CBI.

It does not mean that the conduct of the CBI has been above board. A number of times the CBI has been put in the box. At one point of time, Justice Lodha had observed that the CBI was like a ‘caged parrot’, it must be freed to inspire confidence. It was on the directions of the Supreme Court of India; the selection process of the Director of the CBI was made foolproof. It is no longer the prerogative of the Government of India to appoint the Director. Now the selection of the Director is done by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister as the Chairperson, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court recommended by him as members.

Now the murky internal squabbling in the CBI at the top level has become hot news. Two of its top officers-Director Alok Verma and the Special Director Rakesh Asthana- have been levelling charges against each other with no holds barred. That is why, in the mid of the night, the Government removed both of them and appointed another officer Nageswar Rao as the Acting Director of the CBI. The matter of the removal of both the top officials has now gone to the Supreme Court. The Government of India has informed the Supreme Court that Director Verma was removed on the recommendations of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, a constitutional body, which asked the Government to remove the Shri Verma as he was creating obstructions in the investigations of certain very sensitive cases of national importance.

Since the Additional Director Rakesh Asthana was in running feud with Shri Verma therefore, he was also removed. Shri Asthana is reported to have been investigating very sensitive cases of national importance. In the meantime, many other officers of the CBI jumped into controversy taking the side of one officer or the other. But the intervention application of one senior CBI officer Manish Kumar Sinha virtually brought tsunami effect in the Supreme Court and all over the country as he dragged the names of even the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Union Minister of State for Coal and Mines Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary and the Union Law Secretary Suresh Chandra alleging that they have been influencing the investigation being done by him. Interestingly, those who are opposing the removal of Alok Verma like Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha were vociferously against his appointment as the Director. Now they say that the Director of the CBI can be removed only by the committee that appointed him.

However, before the Intervention Application of Manish Kumar Sinha could come up for hearing in the court, its contents were published in the media and the Chief Justice of India took so much umbrage at it that he refused to hear the case on the fixed date of 21 November. On the earlier date, while providing the copy of the Supreme Court-monitored CVC report to Mr Verma’s advocate Fali Nariman, the court asked him to maintain its confidentiality.

According to the media reports, Manish Kumar Sinha in his intervention application has made certain explosive allegations against Mr.Verma that simply rocked the entire country. Nobody has been ready to accept that the rot has set so deep in the CBI that its officers indulged more in politicking rather than doing the fair investigation. One thing has now become very clear that wealthy and powerful people have been influencing the CBI resulting in the erosion of its credibility.

Apart from the issue of the denting image of the CBI due to internal rivalry; two very important constitutional issues have also arisen during this controversy. One is related to the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ and other is about the ‘federal structure’ of the country. Two Chief Ministers namely; Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal have decided to withdraw the general consent given to CBI to investigate into cases of corruption or some other significant matters in their states without the permission of the state governments.
The first issue is about the outburst of the Chief Justice of India, who was visibly annoyed over the publication of the contents of the intervention application of a disgruntled CBI officer Manish Kumar Singha. This is not for the first time that the parties approaching the Supreme Court or the High Courts have supplied the copies of their applications to the media for wider publicity. So there was nothing new that the media has published the contents of the intervention application of Manish Kumar Sinha. In fact, courts are not supposed to decide the cases on the basis of the publicity given in the media but in a dispassionate manner in light of the facts and legal position.

Needless to say; that an independent media only contributes the quality of justice. In this context, it is necessary to quote Justice Ranjan Gogoi who had said delivering a lecture in Delhi before assuming the office of the Chief Justice of India that ‘independent judges and noisy journalists are the first lines of defence of democracy.’ He also said that not only independent judges and noisy journalists are required for the sound democracy, but independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges are also needed to safeguard the democracy. Therefore, his sudden outburst on the leakage of the contents of the application of Manish Kumar Sinha and its publication in the press does not gel well with his earlier theory. There is no doubt that judges must hear certain cases in camera where the honour and dignity of a woman are involved or if the matter is related to the security of the country otherwise; there is no need to throw the veil of secrecy on any case including this one.

Article 19 of the Constitution provides freedom of speech and expression to every citizen, but it is not absolute. There are many restrictions on it which have been imposed by the Constitution itself. The judiciary is no doubt is the last bastion of hope, but it gets strengthened by the independent and noisy media. Justice Gogoi himself had, along with the other four judges, taken the help of the media to expose the malaise prevailing in the judiciary. Therefore, if the media is doing its job of publishing even the confidential information, it will in no way damage the task cut out for the judiciary. On the contrary, it will contribute to the judiciary in arriving at the right decision.

Another important development with regard to the CBI has come from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, which have decided to withdraw the general consent given to it to investigate any important issue of corruption or crime in the way it liked. As a matter of fact, the withdrawal of the general consent to the CBI is more an attack on the federal structure of the country than on its functioning. The steps taken by the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal may not be technically incorrect but that is certainly very worrisome for the federal structure of the country. It appears that both Chief Ministers have taken this decision on the political grounds but in any case, it would be very disastrous for the federal structure of the country. It is also said that both Chief Ministers are embroiled in the cases of corruption and therefore, they have taken this recourse to be ‘off the hook’.

There is no doubt that the track record of the CBI has not been very inspiring but creating hurdles in its operation will not improve things. It will be mistaken as an attempt to dilute a ‘deterrent to corruption’ and it may further widen the distrust between the Centre and the States. The institutional credibility of the CBI must be strengthened by improving its quality of work but at the same time, the federal structure of the country should also be made strong. Therefore, it will be in the interest of the country that both governments must reconsider their decision of withdrawing the general consent given to it. The CBI must also refurbish its image to inspire confidence across the country. Hopefully; this internal bickering will prove to be a blessing in disguise and the Supreme Court will bring about the desired improvement in the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation so as to instill the confidence in it.