CBI's Fiasco and lessons for governance

Dr. VK Bahuguna

(Author is former civil servant)

Steel is never eaten by moths nor it get rusted but 21st Century India's 'steel frame' a nick name used for the civil servants  for their  steeler role in running the country with firm hand is palpably showing the sign of being eaten by moths and termites as the story after story reveals the murky world of India's babudom. The latest before the public is the dirty linen being washed in public in a most terrible manner by two top IPS officers of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), country's apex institution responsible for investigating graft, financial bungling and crimes. The All India Services and Central services played a crucial role for the British India in setting up of administrative structure for efficient governance and uniting the country as a nation. Soon after the independence civil services played a very vital role in integrating the country on a uniform pattern and their work during initial years of independence led Sardar Patel fancy the word 'Steel frame' for India's civil services. Today after seeing the CBI top bosses quarrel in open is seen as most distressing Joke in the eyes of entire country, Sardar Patel's soul must be crying for the death knell that it sounds for the impartial, efficient, honest and accountable bureaucracy in India.

Among all the civil services in the country the work profile of IPS officers is most difficult and unenviable for that it requires total devotion for enforcing law and order in a country of India's size and dimension. They have to work beyond the designated office hour's and are on duty for 24 hours eating into their family time and have virtually no holiday's on festivals'. The CBI is an organization which has gained immense faith of the citizens of the country for their expertise in exposing crime and graft. It has a work culture and very dedicated officers to count. The recent ugly show is the culmination of a larger malaise of deterioration of value system of institutional integrity which is more often than not is being seen in other area of administration. In any society lack of sense of justice and lawlessness is the greatest terror a people in power can enforce on its own people. Indian public has short memory and a great tolerance for the wrong doers and because of this we fail to generate public opinion against the bad governance and fritter our energy on petty issues.

The CBI as investigating agency was created in 1946. The CBI was follow up of the Special Police Establishment (SPE) which was set up in 1941 to investigate cases of bribery and corruption in transactions with the War & Supply Department of India during World War II. After the end of the War, the need for a Central Government agency to investigate cases of bribery and corruption by Central Government employees was felt. The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was therefore, brought into force in 1946. The CBI derives powers from this Act.  The reputation and image of the agency has been severely dented by the recent unpleasant happening in the organization. This systemic degradation of the institutions has been a gradual phenomenon in this country mainly due to political interference and misuse of bureaucracy and police against political opponents and CBI is no exception to this. When such things happen the corrupt businessmen get closure to such elements and destroy the fairness and integrity of the organizations. It is also ironical that Mr Alok Verma is the third CBI Director after Mr AP Singh and Mr Ranjit Sinha to be embroiled in corruption and being investigated as meat exporter Moin Kureshi is hogging the limelight in two cases.

The CBI has been routinely used against the political opponents by the ruling party in the Centre and the scenario changed after the misuse was challenged and consequent Supreme Court decision on Vineet Narain case on 18thDecember 1997.  It laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI and ordered that the CBI be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an independent governmental agency free from executive interference.

On the current brawl, the Supreme Court on 26th October 2018 had delivered one of its finest judgements in recent months and had saved the reputation of CBI and government of India which the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had failed to do. The Apex Court has given two weeks time to the CVC to inquire into the allegations against the Director CBI Mr Verma and his deputy Mr Asthana under the eyes of a retired Supreme Court Judge Mr AK Patnaik. It has also restrained the interim Director from taking policy decisions. Let us examine this episode from the point of view of propriety and what wrong in the governance and who is responsible for this.

The country has been witnessing an agonising war between these two officers for past few months as media was agog with news of both trading charges against each other. The CVC and the Cabinet Secretary were aware of this internecine war. In any organization the hallmark of a good leader is to control things in the organization. In this particular case Director CBI proved a poor leader of the organization. He should have avoided it as an ego war and taken up matter with higher authorities if he found Mr Asthana doing wrong and the lodging of FIR was uncalled for like two politicians fighting it out. The protection given to the CBI Director that he cannot be removed makes an arrogant leader take irrational decisions. Similarly CVC and Cabinet Secretary proved their incompetence in handling the matter timely and allowed the things to go out of hand despite knowing the facts and not taking action on the complaints of these officers.  In such situation no Prime Minister can run the country if people responsible for running important institutions have lackadaisical attitude in dealing with such matter. The Prime Minister's office should have acted firmly as a minor hint of differences spilling over in media and CVC should have been sufficient to act fast. This has eroded the image of the government and opposition is politicising the issue.

It is therefore, necessary for the government to analyse in detail how far the institutional reforms after Supreme Court decision in December 1997 has been able to improve the functioning of CBI and it will be worth finding rate of conviction of cases inquired by CBI after this decision. This decision of the Court took away the power of appointing and sacking the CBI Director. In hind sight it seems that it had emboldened the incumbents to be more brash and arrogant otherwise how come the previous CBI Director used to meet the accused in his residence. As for appointments it is well known that most of the appointments in Central Governments since long are controlled by a Delhi coterie which irrespective of party in power can mar the reputation of any good and honest officer and promote officers who are smart in networking. It would be prudent to think that the job of executive should be done by executive, provided the methodology of short listing is fair and beyond doubt. By making a collegiums style of selection makes it a Panchayats decision. The CBI is a very well respected organization and its prestige should be salvaged and hopefully it will regain its reputation as the CVC has been put into job in fast mode but Prime Minister Modi must stem the systemic rot by going for drastic reforms and he must review if the Vineet Narain Judgement has been of use and how far it was implemented for maintaining the institutional integrity of the CBI. Politicians of all hues however, must stop meddling on this matter. Around 1300 words.


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