CBI should have ‘arm’s-length’ relationship with govt: Vinod Rai
There is an urgent need to empower the CBI with a distinct mandate of keeping an “arm’s-length” relationship with the government, says former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai.
He is also of the view that the CBI seems to be becoming a ‘handmaiden’ to investigate, if not intimidate and the onus is now on the government to cut its losses and set about ensuring that it is not held guilty of allowing the credibility of these institutions to hit rock-bottom during its tenure.
He feels that an alert PAC holding frequent meetings would be a very effective instrument to keep the executive under constant scrutiny and bring it to book when there are signs of laxity, wastage or malfeasance.
The former IAS officer has come out with a book titled “Rethinking Good Governance: Holding to Account India’s Public Institutions” in which he stresses how important these institutions are to serve as the pillars supporting the foundation of a robust and vibrant democracy.
From numerous occasions when MPs failed to adhere to the decorum expected of lawmakers in the House, the serious deficit of impartiality and integrity within the CBI, to the issue of governance that has plagued the BCCI, and the imbroglio around the perceived lack of cohesion between the government and the RBI, Rai claims that such instances led to a gradual decline of the independence and autonomy of these institutions over the decade.
He suggests that the role of prosecutors in the CBI needs overhauling as the agency does not have a very encouraging track record of successful prosecution, especially in high-profile cases.
“Often, the director of prosecution plays a secondary role and gets swamped by the same political allegiances that bedevil the director of the organisation, especially when the director gets the appointment after lobbying and hence ab initio starts with an ‘I owe you’ tag,” he writes in the book published by Rupa.
He also says that increasingly, there is a decline in the professional capability of officers being appointed to the agency with a preference for ‘loyal’ officers. “This has become a dangerous trend, resulting in prosecutions proving to be increasingly faulty.” According to Rai, accountability institutions that form the foundational pillars of any democracy seem to be losing their structural strength. “That is probably the reason an otherwise decisive government did not see or, if it saw, did not act on early warning signs.” “The CBI seems to be becoming a ‘handmaiden’ to investigate, if not intimidate. The onus is now squarely on the government to cut its losses, and, wielding the hammer, set about ensuring that it is not held guilty of allowing the credibility of these institutions to hit rock-bottom during its tenure,” he writes.
“Considering that the agency seems to be the final port of call for any major act of crime or corruption, there is an urgent need to arm it with a distinct mandate of keeping an ‘arm’s-length’ relationship with the government. This should be genuine and not undertaken merely for visibility purposes,” he adds.
Rai, who is the chairman of the Supreme Court-mandated Committee of Administrators of the BCCI, says the Indian cricket board prided itself on having a management system presided over by the most experienced cricket administrators in the land.
“However, when the challenge of big money, star power, 24x7 national-media focus and its own internal conflict of interest transgressions arose, the soft underbelly of the BCCI was revealed,” he writes.
“There was no transparency in its administration and its governance structure revealed that amendments to its rules and regulations were made at short notice, perhaps to pave the way for its functionaries to undertake commercial ventures.
“It had no code of ethical conduct for its office-bearers, no ombudsman to delineate the fault lines and, above all, offered a structure which acquiesced to the power dynamics of the electoral ecosystem,” he adds.
On Parliament, Rai says that the challenges faced by it are immense.
“Instruments that the Parliament can use for accountability, such as motions on the floor of the House, the quality of debate and the committee system, are increasingly being rendered ineffective and dysfunctional,” he argues.
According to him, the Parliament also faces a daunting challenge as “modern legislation places a responsibility upon the capacity and political inclination of MPs, who appear to be least inclined to shoulder such responsibility, to attend to legislation”.
This decline in the image of the Parliament, he says, requires immediate corrective action if it has to rejuvenate itself and establish trust between itself and the people it represents.