Freeing the caged parrot

Freeing the caged parrot

What is it about the CBI that it has always been in the limelight? That, too, for all wrong reasons, earning it the nickname Central Bureau of...

What is it about the CBI that it has always been in the limelight? That, too, for all wrong reasons, earning it the nickname Central Bureau of Corruption, Connivance and Convenience. With the devil taking the hindmost!
But this time round, its Director Ranjit Sinha is scurrying for cover. He is in the dock for cover-ups and clean chits in the Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum scam case. Indeed, he has come a long way from being called the Government’s ‘caged parrot’ last year in Coalgate to having harsh strictures passed against him today.

In an extraordinary and unprecedented order in the 2G investigations last week, the Supreme Court severely indicted Sinha for “influencing, interfering, tampering and protecting some accused” in the probe after it found allegations against him appeared to be “prima facie credible”. Alongside, it ordered him to rescue himself from the case. This comes against the backdrop of recent visits by some dubious individuals and 2G accused to Sinha’s residence. Interestingly, the frequency with which they called increased as investigations against those indicted or their associates picked up speed. “How seriously should we take the case made out by the agency?” questioned the Bench.

Sinha stands guilty of reportedly transferring an officer who disagreed with the case. The three Judges Bench wondered whether the “Chief wanted to have a clear path where no one will oppose you. Are you not trying to overreach the Court?” queried Chief Justice Dattu as it went against the spirit of their order not to meddle till the probe was complete.

Adding to the Director’s woes, the Bench criticised Sinha’s conduct in referring the Aircel-Maxis case relating to former UPA Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran to the then Attorney General, terming it a “waste of precious time.” Worse, the verdict could also portend trouble for Sinha in the Rs 1.86 lakh crore coal block allocation case.

Alas, instead of admitting his fault, Sinha is busy brazening out and vilifying some of his officers for acting as “moles” of the petitioner by supplying 2G scam documents and victimising them, thereby, tarnishing the entire organization. Could the CBI’s image be besmirched any further?

The issue is not whether Sinha resigns or not prior to his retirement on 2 December – he should given the strong indictment from the Apex Court in the 2G case – but why the CBI’s credibility has suffered so greatly?

Sadly, successive governments have used it as a hand maiden to dance to their tune. Consequently, the system became self-perpetuating, whereby a threatened political elite has given more and more powers to the CBI to get their way and have their say. Arguably, is the CBI more sinned against than sinning? Is the pot calling the kettle black? The truth is mid-way. Both work in tandem in furthering their own interest. The CBI has also adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with the government of the day and its willingness and commitment to serve their mai baaps interest for post retirement lollipops.

It remains to be seen whether Sinha’s misdemeanors would cast a shadow on the renewed debate on the CBI independence, autonomy and its accountability. What should be the balance between the two? Along with the terms of executive management or control? How do we enable the agency to perform its functions with speed and prudence? Clearly, the great disservice Sinha has done to his institution is to let his own questionable record cloud the important long-term issues at stake. Recall, repeated castigations by various courts in different cases over the agency’s lethargy in conducting investigations make it imperative that the Lokpal Bill, which brings the CBI under the Lokpal’s ambit, be brought forthwith in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

Prime Minister Modi has oft spoken about ushering in transparency in governance. It is high time the CBI is made truly independent and it stopped being His Master’s Voice. Undoubtedly, this would be a formidable task given that the agency needs purging of “yes men” and cleansed of backdoor instructions.

Undeniably, future CBI chiefs have an arduous task ahead of cleansing the grimy stables. They would need to behave more responsibly leaving no room for suspicion sending a message that CBI's credibility is supreme. Asserted an officer, “We now would have to reopen case files again as many of Sinha’s decisions were questionable. In addition, these could end up being challenged in courts.”

Pertinently, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the “Working of the CBI” in 2011, which continues to gather dust, recommended that it be made an “enforcement agency” and be given “independent and autonomous’’ status to prevent political interference in its functioning. It also mooted that the agency 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.

In all western democracies, investigative agencies have undergone huge and numerous makeovers and evolved over a period of time. Therefore, we need simply to set CBI free. Granting sanction for prosecution was one of the “bottlenecks” in giving the CBI autonomy. Brazenly, there are umpteen instances where prosecution sanction was denied.

Will Modi seize the moment, surprise and silence his rivals by introducing the long-awaited Lokpal Bill and place CBI under Lokpal oversight in the current winter session of parliament?

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.

As the NDA government selects the new CBI Director, it needs to make sure the person is truly above board known for his honesty, expertise, integrity, competence and commitment. He should have no political affiliations, lest he be dubbed the Prime Minister’s hatchet man. His impeccable record would go a long way in establishing the credibility down the rank and file and guarantee an unbiased assessment of all cases.

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?

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