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How the CBI can avoid adventurism

The organisation must be headed by an officer needs to have professional rigour, unimpeachable integrity and political neutrality

analysis Updated: Jan 30, 2019 09:05 IST
ML Sharma
ML Sharma
Central Bureau of Investigation,CBI director,political neutrality
It must be emphasised that the CBI is largely a one-man show run by the director(AFP)

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been in the news as long as I remember, and mainly for good reasons. This is not so of late. I joined the CBI in 1982 as superintendent of police drawn by its positive image and its fabled professionalism. I served it for 18 years in three spells. The CBI has been in the news in the last couple of months for reasons which cannot be said to be edifying. Its image seems to have taken a beating due to internal dissensions and the alleged political affiliations of its superior ranks. This was not always the case.

The CBI can rightfully be credited with successfully investigating some of most sensational crimes of our times. Many of these had transnational ramifications and dimensions, including assassinations, hijackings, terrorist crimes and bank frauds involving thousands of crores of rupees. The convictions secured by the CBI in the assassination cases of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh as also in the Bombay blast case and the Chandigarh and Kandahar hijacking cases illustrate the point. Securing convictions in the Dera Sacha Sauda cases recently is another feather in its cap. Besides, the CBI has also successfully secured the extradition of fugitives from foreign lands. It is a world class investigating agency and has been known for its integrity and professionalism.

What has gone wrong with such a fine agency? The answers are not far to seek. It must be emphasised that the CBI is largely a one-man show run by the director. Apart from being the administrative head of the agency, he is also the chief investigator and exercises supervisory powers under section 36 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The director’s functions and powers include ordering the registration of FIRs and preliminary enquiries in important cases; guiding and monitoring the conduct of such cases; the constitution of investigation teams in important and sensitive cases, or group of cases; midterm corrections in the conduct of investigations/enquiries and, most important, passing final orders in all important cases. This is not an easy task to accomplish without sufficient experience in the functioning of the CBI and without enjoying the reputation of being an upright and an honest officer. Political neutrality is another requisite for the job. In other words, to be a successful director, an officer needs to have professional rigour, unimpeachable integrity and political neutrality. Perhaps, this is why the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case had ordered the selection of the director by a high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister, with the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, as its members.

If the CBI has to regain its past glory, the best IPS officer in the country should get this job. This is the only way to restore the faith of the public in the efficiency and efficacy of the organisation. It is not only good for the public but also for the government of the day as this would ensure that it would not have to face the kind of embarrassment that it has in the recent past. Further, once the director has been appointed, he needs to be given a free hand to run the organisation on professional lines and should have the liberty to induct officers on deputation according to his choice. The blind application of tenure rule to CBI officers has resulted in the loss of valuable human assets to the detriment of the agency. This must be rectified immediately.

The superintendence of the agency should be vested with a single authority and that can be only the Central government in the department of personnel and training. Experience shows that split superintendence has not proved to be fruitful. All resources for the agency comes from the government. The CVC has nothing to offer. The expectation that superintendence by the CVC in anti-corruption matters would be conducive to insularity of the agency from political influences is not borne out by experience.

The director has been given a fixed tenure of two years to insulate him from political influences. The fixed tenure should have worked for the professional betterment of the agency. Unfortunately, this has not happened. On the other hand,the fixed tenure has been misused by certain unscrupulous directors as a licence to exercise their power and authority for personal aggrandisement in ways more than one, to the detriment of organisational interests. To curb this, there appears to be a case for the government to constitute an Oversight Committee consisting of distinguished retired CBI officers of DGP rank, to oversee its functioning in a general sense but without the authority to interfere in the investigative process.

Can the CBI can be resurrected? I would say yes, it certainly can be, and shall be, if it is led by an experienced officer with unimpeachable integrity and political neutrality. Only such a director can deter investigative adventurism.

ML Sharma is former Special Director, CBI and former Central Information Commissioner

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 30, 2019 09:05 IST