The CBI is caught between a rock and a hard place

  • Manoje Nath
  • Updated: May 13, 2014 22:50 IST

To the many admonitions by civil servants on how the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should go about its business, one more was added recently by Ashok Kapur (The CBI is designed to shock and awe, Comment, May 5, The piece is a reiteration of the obvious: Of course, the CBI is merely a police agency that investigates crime: of course, it does not implement any policy decision. Everyone performs the function for which he is appointed. Taking executive decisions does not fall within the charter of a policeman’s responsibilities and so he does not take them, just as an army officer is supposed to fight war and not lead an orchestra.

There is some more convoluted logic in the piece like the agency does not make policy and so it cannot investigate them. If policy is kept out of the purview of the CBI for this reason, then why should it be allowed to investigate purchases of fighter jets and submarines? The decision to allocate a natural resource, be it spectrum or coal, may be termed as policy, but the allocation among competing parties is a managerial decision and that cannot be beyond scrutiny.

Over the years, the CBI has been accused of becoming a weapon of blackmail by those who control it. Now that the people in high offices of the central government are also complaining about its conduct, it is a good occasion to ask: How do citizens view the role of police in society?

They have a simple expectation from the police: The police should make itself useful to them always. This is a demanding task. You cannot be useful to the victim and the offender, to the complainant as well as the accused, to the party in power and the ones in perpetual quest of wresting it at the same time. Its job is complicated but sometimes under the pressure of public opinion or compelled by the courts, it is compelled to take up investigations against powerful people. Then — like fish in an aquarium — it becomes the focus of all attention. Investigation becomes a subject to plebiscitarian pressure.

Prodded by the court into taking action, the CBI itself is more in “shock and awe” rather than the other way round. It faces a chorus of disapproval from the policymakers and its reverberations are heard in the corridors of power. There are anguished cries of ‘why’ on behalf of those whose decisions are questioned. But, on the other hand, citizens ask in an equally anguished manner: ‘Why not?’

Manoje Nath is a retired IPS officer

The views expressed by the author are personal

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