No court other than the Supreme Court and high courts can direct the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inquire into allegations of corruption by public officials, the Delhi high court has clarified.
Justice Siddharth Mridul came down heavily on a special CBI court in Delhi, which on two separate occasions ordered CBI probes into allegation of corruption against two former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officers.
In February 2013, the special court ordered a CBI probe into the alleged disproportionate assets of former RAW chief AK Verma, who headed the intelligence agency during 1987-90. Verma was alleged to have siphoned off secret funds from RAW for himself and his family members.
Again, on May 7, 2014, the special CBI court directed the agency to investigate allegations of corruption against Dr AS Narayana Rao, a RAW scientist caught red-handed accepting a bribe of Rs 1 lakh.
Rao was one of the members of an inter-ministerial working group (IMWG) to monitor and control the export licence of certain high risk commodities whose export would adversely affect the security and economy of the country.
After an export company representative lodged a complaint with the CBI that Rao had been demanding a bribe for clearance of an export license, a trap was laid on February 02, 2009 at a hotel in Delhi where he was arrested.
In both the cases, CBI had moved the HC against the orders. Sonia Mathur, CBI’s standing counsel, had contended that the orders were in “complete violation of the principle of law laid down” by the Supreme Court that a special judge, CBI cannot direct the agency to register an FIR and investigate the offence.
Mathur had argued that the two cases do not fall into the category involving national and international ramifications.
In its 27-page verdict, the HC said, “CBI is not an investigating agency of the court presided over by the special judge under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The status of CBI cannot be de-escalated to that of an “officer- in-charge of the police station” under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure”.
Justice Mridul remarked that, “merely because the allegations pertain to government officials, does not make it a case which should be investigated by the CBI”.
The power to direct investigation to CBI is to be exercised with caution and in select few recherché cases, keeping in mind that CBI should not be overburdened with matters that do not require such expertise, Justice Mridul added.
“The SC has clearly delineated that only the SC and the HCs in their inherent jurisdiction can issue such a direction to CBI,” the HC said setting aside the two orders.