It is a sight no democracy can be proud of, least of all the world’s largest one. Several Union ministers and public figures have publicly questioned the CBI’s latest ‘investigation’ into the role of the former chairman and a member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) into certain decisions taken by them in the execution of their official duties.
According to media reports, the CBI has registered what is termed a ‘preliminary enquiry’ (PE) into the transaction. For the uninitiated, a PE is distinct from an FIR. The difference lies in the fact that an FIR is registered once there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. A PE can be based on mere ‘suspicion’ or ‘source’ information.
A policeman, the CBI director, has emerged as the ‘highest authority’ to judge executive decision-making in the government. Thereby, the entire architecture of the State has become skewed. The director is merely the head of a specialised directorate that is supposed to be under the department of personnel, manned by civil servants — all trained and experienced magistrates. The department is headed by the civilian secretary, who reports to the minister, who, in turn, reports to the Cabinet.
In the case of the CBI, it is merely a police agency that investigates crimes. It is not even required to implement any policy decision.
The policemen manning a police directorate like the CBI are a privileged lot. A policeman during the course of his entire official career does not have to take any executive decision. The director has been granted the same pay scale as the secretary to the controlling ministry. As a result, the former is virtually unaccountable to any civilian authority. This is a violation of basic democratic norms.
The permanent civilian executive is entrusted by the Constitution and the various laws with decision-making authority right from the first official assignment, i.e. a sub-divisional magistrate. A police officer, on the other hand, has no Constitutional role.
Largely as a result of a virtual abdication of authority by the permanent executive, the CBI director has acquired awesome powers. Theoretically, he can question every executive decision in the government. Perhaps there is no other example anywhere in the democratic world where a police agency has been vested with such unfettered authority.
Democracy truly stands on its head, never mind the Constitution. Is the police State here already?
(Ashok Kapur is a former IAS officer. The views expressed by the author are personal)