Our hypocrisy gets nowhere reflected as starkly as in the case of the CBI. Courts call it ‘a caged parrot’ but will often seek its services to investigate crimes of serious nature. The other day, the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and the Leader of the Opposition met to pick out its director. But the Supreme Court won’t accept any outsider, be it an eminent lawyer or the Union law minister to have a say in selecting their judges. The PM’s presence is, of course, a necessity for he oversees CBI’s day-to-day working.
Even involvement of Chief Justice is understandable, for courts have powers to direct CBI to investigate a crime and monitor its investigation. But what is the opposition leader doing there? Recording dissent as a matter of habit? But hypocrites as we are, we must maintain a charade of running a participative democracy.
Another oddity in that meeting was CJI’s reference to a notification of the Supreme Court that officers with less than six months of service cannot be considered for appointment as director. What about someone who has six months and four days left in the service and why should the number of days take precedence over merit and investigative experience? Selection in any form will always be questioned but you have to trust the selectors, for seniority is fortuitous and records are mostly managed.
The anomaly does not stop there. The CBI is called the Central Bureau of Investigation but does not have federal character. It can investigate cases of corruption and serious crimes involving only employees of the Central Government and Union Territories. For states, it has to have their consent. As on date, Mizoram, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have withdrawn their consent. Count also on Tamil Nadu to promptly withdraw the consent if the Opposition starts demanding a CBI inquiry. Their chief ministers are more comfortable with their bonded police to investigate their misdeeds. Only courts could force Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee to allow the CBI to probe the gold smuggling case, and Narada and Chit fund scams respectively.
Let’s then bury the CBI or replace it with a smaller vigilance unit to cover only Central Government employees. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi could have undone this concession to states for they had a majority in Parliament but gave up for obvious reasons. PM Modi, with no baggage to hide, could do this as well but he seems reluctant to add fuel to the fire raging all around him. Ironically, no political party will ever like to dispense with the CBI. They need it to serve their politics whenever they are in power. So, the CBI trudges on, evoking both hostility and admiration.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing