The CBI is in the news again, though for wrong reasons. A former Chief of the Bureau, U S Mishra, recently said that the premier investigating agency functions like a department of the government without any real autonomy. He elucidated that in the investigation of cases against prominent political persons “there are influences to keep the progress report pending or present it in a certain way”. Mishra further said that he faced this predicament while supervising the disproportionate assets cases against Mayawati and Mulayam Singh and the Telgi scam.
The Samajwadi party has meanwhile alleged that the government is using the agency to blackmail it to support the bill for reservation in promotions. The charge was made in the context of Supreme Court’s direction to the CBI to continue its probe into the disproportionate assets cases against Mulayam Singh and his sons, Akhilesh and Prateek.
The Supreme Court’s intervention in the disproportionate assets case against Mulayam Singh’s family was unexceptionable. The court went on to say that “the CBI functioning under the Delhi Police Establishment Act has no obligation to submit its investigation report to the Union Government”. The Supreme Court would be monitoring the investigation itself. This is the second instance of its kind. Earlier, in the 2G Spectrum case also, the Supreme Court had intervened to supervise the investigation.
The question is: In how many cases can the Supreme Court possibly intervene to take over the supervisory functions? An institutional arrangement needs to be put in place to ensure that the investigations are done fairly, objectively and in an impartial manner without any extraneous pressures.
This brings us to the need to give teeth to the CBI by providing it with the necessary insulation. A number of committees in the past made recommendations on this point, but these were all ignored by the government. As far back as 1978, the LP Singh Committee recommended the enactment of “a comprehensive central legislation to remove the deficiency of not having a central investigative agency with a self-sufficient statutory charter of duties and functions”. Later, in 1998, the Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines to give functional autonomy to the CBI. These were cleverly subverted by the government. Justice J S Verma, author of the famous judgment, lamented that “even now the CBI continues to disappoint the people whenever it deals with cases against the powerful”. Justice Verma said that “it is too much of a coincidence that in sensitive matters, the outcome of the CBI’s investigation invariably depends on the political equation of the accused with the ruling power, and it changes without compunction with the change in that equation”.
The 19th Report of the parliamentary standing committee (2007) emphasised the need for a separate Act for the CBI “in tune with requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality”. The Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) also said that “a new law should be enacted to govern the working of the CBI”. The 24th Report of the parliamentary standing committee (2008) deplored political interference in the functioning of the CBI and expressed its unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources”. The committee went on to say that the CBI should be supported by an “infallible legal fabric” and suggested giving it “adequate statutory support”.
It is necessary to place on record that the Central Bureau of Investigation was set up through a Resolution dated April 1, 1963 of the Ministry of Personnel, and that it derives its power to investigate from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. As per section 2 of the Act, DSPE has jurisdiction to investigate offences in the Union Territories only. However, the jurisdiction can be extended by the central government to other areas including railways and states under section 5(1) of the Act, provided the state government gives consent under section 6 of the Act. The superintendence of Delhi Special Police Establishment vests with the Central Government whereas for investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the superintendence vests with the Central Vigilance Commission.
It is not a very happy situation and, not surprisingly, the central government, under the existing arrangement, has been using and misusing the CBI in the manner it wants. It is indeed very unfortunate that, on the one hand, the chief ministers are misusing the state police forces, on the other hand the central government is doing the same with the CBI. The investigating agencies have become instruments to further the political agenda of the state and central governments. The state governments are apathetic to police reforms; the central government is indifferent to giving insulation to the CBI.
It is necessary that there a separate Act is legislated to define the organisational framework, functions and powers of the Central Bureau of Investigation and that the organisation is vested with statutory powers on the lines of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Such a step would ensure autonomy in the real sense of the term to the CBI and go a long way in ensuring the independence, objectivity and impartiality of the organisation.
The existing procedure for the appointment of the Director CBI should also be reviewed. The suggestion that he should be selected by a collegium including the Chief Justice of India and leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha appears quite apt. Two other measures would also be necessary in this context. The vacancies in different ranks, which are fairly large, should be urgently filled up and, depending on the requirement, additional manpower sanctioned. Financial autonomy to the organisation will also have to be ensured; it should not have to beg the government for funds.
The Lokpal Bill is yet to be enacted. A section of people have been demanding that the investigation wing of the CBI should be hived off and placed under the Lokpal. The CBI has three well- defined wings: the Anti-Corruption division; Economic Crimes division; and Special Crimes division. All these wings function in an integrated manner and not in water tight compartments. It is high time that the Central Bureau of Investigation is given a statutory basis and provided with the infrastructural support and financial resources to meet the people’s expectations.
Prakash Singh, a former police chief, was member of the Expert Group appointed by the Planning Commission in 2006