New law, focus on tech can help CBI counter corruption, politics

Apr 09, 2023 08:53 PM IST

The need of the hour is a comprehensive CBI Act that will free the organisation from executive control

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exhortation at the recent Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) diamond jubilee celebrations to eliminate public servant corruption was distinct for its no-nonsense approach to the problem. His predecessors, too, often spoke up in favour of extirpating this evil. Their publicly expressed outrage, however, lacked the bite. There was half-heartedness in the vigilance machinery. Corruption had become so endemic that good intentions were simply swallowed up by civil servants at all levels. How do you handle this unfortunate situation?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi (ANI) PREMIUM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi (ANI)

My faith lies only in technology. No human effort is going to bring about any palpable change. The issuing of passports and railway reservations, along with the processing of income-tax returns, are areas where computerised handling of public submissions has brought about a near miracle. CBI, too, can no longer mechanically react to situations. Instead, it should encourage faceless complaints in which the complainant’s identity is protected, which is not the case now. There is constant public fear that exposing corruption is fraught with grave consequences. In such a scenario, how can you expect an average person to risk himself to predators in public life?

CBI’s intelligence machinery is modest. Without greater input of information on misdeeds in the bureaucracy, not much impact can be made to cleanse public life. I am not backing greater snooping. What I would like to see is a greater inflow of relevant information on suspected malafide deviations in the procedure laid down for service delivery.

Speed money is still the order of the day in certain departments. While you can blame people paying this bribe to accelerate procedures, one must question why they are anxious to grease the palm of minions in the hierarchy. It can be attributed only to enormous delays in responding to routine public requests for service. Supervisors need to punish sloth and delay.

CBI also needs more manpower at the supervisory level. When compared to other central police organisations, far more Indian Police Service officers from the states are willing to come to CBI on deputation, but there should be incentives to bring in more dedicated and technically qualified officers. This is the need of the hour.

I lament the fact that for many years, CBI’s reputation for honesty has been under question due to a handful of officers. There is a persistent apprehension that a few dishonest elements have infiltrated CBI at many levels. These are suspected to have indulged in intimidating honest civil servants. This is unacceptable.

Constant vigilance over the conduct of some CBI officers is called for. Those against whom complaints — in writing or orally — have been received will have to be objectively probed; severe action must be taken against those who misbehaved, without fear or favour. Unless this exercise is done scrupulously and it is publicly known that penal internal action will be taken, there will be more than a shadow of doubt over CBI’s standards of integrity.

Finally, no treatise on CBI will be complete without a reference to the politics in policing.I had a taste of it when I started in the 1960s. I was transferred out of a cushy posting because I committed the indiscretion of arresting a senior politician. Things have changed only a little since then.

CBI cannot remain insular from the rough and tumble of Indian politics.It will be dishonest to assert that all its probes are clinical and wholly free from the diktat of the ruling party of the day. No political party is blameless here.There are often suggestions on how to shape the course of an investigation,especially when the accused involved is a political foe. But then to say that all investigations against Opposition leaders are biased and tendentious is far from the truth. There are processes that are impregnable and no officer will ever put his career on the line. Also, out of about 1,000 cases that CBI registers annually, only less than 5% carry political overtones.

The biggest challenge before the government, then, is how to protect CBI from political caprice.The need of the hour is a comprehensive CBI Act that will free the organisation – at least partially – from executive control. It will be interesting to see whether the government bites the bullet.

Dr RK Raghavan is a former CBI director who currently teaches Criminal Justice and Policing at the Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. The views expressed are personal

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