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Agency in shackles?

The workings and powers of the CBI have been under scrutiny of late. Here’s a report card of its performance so far. Rajesh Ahuja reports.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2012 01:54 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Rajesh Ahuja
Hindustan Times

n A few years back, a team of CBI officers led by a DIG landed in Chennai with a mandate to “quietly'” collect documents in a high-profile and politically sensitive case. But the team ended up conducting searches (which were not so quiet) at a few places that generated a great deal of political heat. The team was asked to pack their bags and return immediately. The DIG and his subordinates discussed the matter, as leaving the process midway would have damaged the case. A decision was taken. The DIG returned immediately leaving his officers to complete the process!

"The documents we recovered then, really helped the CBI to take the case to its logical conclusion," said a source familiar with the incident. The story bears the hallmark of the twin pressures that play upon the agency — the circumstances under which the CBI officers work and the courage they need to show to brave the political heat.

The Central Bureau of Investigation is an agency which is still waiting to deliver its full potential. “All we require is financial and administrative autonomy. The agency can do wonders as the recent examples show — the 2G spectrum allocation case, the Bhanwari Devi murder case, the Jagan Mohan Reddy case or the decision to file chargesheet in the Loop-Essar case,” said a top official of the agency on the condition of anonymity.

The shackles are many. On its own, the CBI can initiate investigation against central government employees but there are certain pre-conditions. Prior sanction to investigate officers of the rank of joint secretary and above, and prosecution approval after completion of investigation to file a chargesheet are two of the biggest hurdles. “At the moment we are awaiting sanction in 13 cases to register an FIR against the officers of the rank of joint secretary and above. As on December 31, 2011, the agency was waiting for prosecution sanction in 80 cases,” said Dharini Mishra, the chief information officer of the agency.

Moreover, the agency cannot file an appeal in any case without approval from the union law ministry. “In our case (Jaggi murder) the CBI could not file an appeal against the acquittal of main accused Amit Jogi even in 1000 days. The process for filing an appeal took lots of time,” says Satish Jaggi, son of Ram Avatar Jaggi, who decided to file a revision petition in the court when the CBI didn’t move in the set time limit.

The agency has faced a great deal of flak for its failure to complete investigations or secure convictions in high-profile cases like Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case (wherein it didn’t file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of former PM PV Narsimha Rao and former union minister Buta Singh from the Delhi high court), Bofors case (which had to be closed with a great deal of embarrassment for the agency) or Lalit Narayan Mishra case (wherein the trial is on for the last 36 years). “We have more than 10,000 cases pending in courts. Of them, we have identified around 230 cases all over the country which are being monitored for fast-tracking their trial. If we manage to secure conviction in these cases, it will alter the image of the agency in the next few years. These are impact cases,” said a top agency official.

First Published: Apr 28, 2012 22:44 IST