The HINDU Editorial: Is CBI the handmaiden of the government?

The debate whether CBI is a tool used by government of the day against their opposition has once again come to the fore.. Let’s dissect an editorial from The Hindu dated 14th of July,2017 to get some opinions on the same.

CBI handmaiden government
Image Source:MapsofIndia

This is an explanation of an editorial from The Hindu newspaper. I have just tried to elaborate the points mentioned in the editorial and explain it in the simplest possible way. I hope you’ll like it.

In this article, three sets of opinions are presented and all are explained below:

Opinion 1: Yes, CBI is the handmaiden of the government.

The opinion is put forward by Prashant Bhusan. He is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court.

According to Prashant Bhusan, the CBI acts largely at the behest of the government of the day which becomes evident from the activity and inactivity of the institution, viz. CBI. If we observe some of the recent cases of activity like in case of Arvind Kejriwal, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Praful Patel (former Minister of Civil Aviation and Heavy Industries), or Mamata Banerjee (Bengal CM) we’ll find that the institution acts at the behest of the government who seeks to pressurise its opponents.

He isn’t of the opinion that they are not corrupt and are being harassed without any cause, rather he wants to point out the timing at which the CBI acts. When the Congress government was in power, it didn’t place CBI against his minister (Praful Patel) despite various mentions of corruption during his tenure. Even after the incumbent government came to power, it wasn’t initiated but now all of a sudden it has been?

Similarly, when Mamata Banerjee started raising her voice again PM Modi’s demonetisation move, the CBI started acting against her MLA in the Sharda Chit Fund scam.

The only point that he wants to highlight is why not then? Why now?

Even the SC in 2013 called the institution a “caged parrot”.

We can go as far as the Bofors case to understand how the CBI has been used by successive governments to work for them.

He opines that as long as the government of the day has the power to transfer and post officials of its choice in the CBI, the investigative agency will not enjoy autonomy and will be unable to investigate cases freely.

Also, there are instances of corrupt officers in the CBI who become pliable in the hands of the government. Who can forget the tenure of Ranjit Sinha? He misused his position as chief of the CBI to scuttle enquiries, investigations and prosecutions in the coal block allocation cases.

Prashant Bhushan is of the opinion that yes CBI acts at the behest of government of the day and therefore needs to be placed under an independent body.

Opinion 2: It wouldn’t be fair to damn an organisation for its poor recent performance and ignore its long-term record

This opinion is put forward by Navneet Rajan Wasan. He retired as Director-General of Bureau of Police Research and Development and has earlier served in the CBI and the NIA.

He lauds the long-term record of the CBI and claims that the institution has made its mark as an independent, objective and fair investigative agency over the years. He adds, the institution has won the confidence of the judiciary, public and media, resulting in a frequent demand that it investigate sensitive and complex cases, especially of corruption among the upper echelons of public service.

Though he acknowledges that the CBI’s image has suffered a setback in the last few years, he opines that it wouldn’t be fair to damn an organisation for its poor recent performance and ignore its long-term record.

Succinctly, he believes that the CBI overall has acted as an independent institution and that’s the reason why in every sensitive case, a CBI enquiry is demanded. The image, though has suffered a setback in the last few years, it can’t be made the premise to question CBI’s credibility as a whole.

Opinion 3: The fault is not so much of the organisation as of the people who shape its structure and define its powers.

The opinion is forward by Prakash Singh. He is a former Director-General of the Border Security Force.

He highlights that the CBI has been criticised several times (like in 2009 Justice Verma in an article stated that “it is sad that even now the CBI continues to disappoint whenever it deals with cases against the powerful”) and calls them valid but raises a legitimate question that can we hold CBI responsible for that?

He answers that despite successive committees at different periods of time suggested changes in the composition and structure of the CBI, it is the government who needs to be blamed for not reforming CBI accordingly. It would be unfair to blame the organisation when it is not given the required legal mandate, when it is not provided with the requisite manpower and financial resources.

Some of the committees that recommended changes in the composition and structure of the CBI are:

L.P. Singh Committee in 1978 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

19th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (2007) recommended that a separate act should be promulgated for the CBI “in tune with the requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality.”

24th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (2008) was of the unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources.”

Succinctly, Prakash Singh is of the opinion that as the political class shapes CBI’s structure and define its power, it is the political class who should be blamed and not the CBI.



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