Here’s a CBI folklore: The chief was found – shocked and scandalised – one morning during investigations into a politically sensitive case in front of a room in the agency’s Delhi headquarters.
Because the doors were unlocked despite his express orders that it should be out of bounds for everybody.
Some documents gathered during a sensitive case were stashed away in that room, and even the investigating team was not supposed to have access to them. The political heat was too intense.
The officer heading the investigation, however, managed to persuade the chief to allow at least those involved in the probe to have a look at the documents – as the matter had landed up at the doorstep of the Supreme Court.
The chief agreed, but reluctantly, with the rider that not a word about the documents should go out. He had a point. The agency was still being bossed over by its political masters despite the 1997 judgment on the Vineet Narain case.
Narain, a scribe and an anti-corruption activist, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against the CBI’s failure to investigate anybody in the hawala scam – a Rs. 65-crore money laundering racket, involving about 115 top bureaucrats, several cabinet ministers, chief ministers and governors.
Narain said, “The CBI, since its inception, has been an instrument in the hands of the government to settle political scores. It is not an agency to investigate corruption, but a burial ground for mega scams. Things have not changed even now.”
Nothing, it seems, has changed since then.
On Tuesday, present CBI chief Ranjit Sinha had to defend showing the draft of the agency’s report on coal block allocations to law minister Ashwani Kumar before submitting it to the Supreme Court. Sinha’s argument: The agency is not autonomous and the minister is not an outsider.
This time too, the Supreme Court has taken objection to a politician bossing over the CBI chief and, on May 8, may make another attempt to fine-tune the Vineet Narain case judgment.
The court directed that the CVC, a constitutional body, would have supervisory control over the agency in corruption cases and ensured a two-year tenure for the chief with a transparent selection process.
It also empowered the agency to initiate probes – without government sanction – against bureaucrats of the ranks of joint secretary and above.
But in 2003, the BJP-led NDA government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, returned to the old system of government having a final call on initiating probes against senior bureaucrats.
Narain said, “I am sad about the people who make noise about the CBI’s independence when they are in the Opposition. But when in power, they also use the agency to their benefit.”