Op-Ed: Time for SC to restore the integrity of CBI

As the sordid details of the murky goings-on inside the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) keep tumbling out one after another, they help answer many of the questions that have been bothering those who have followed its track record over the years. Questions like why does the premier investigating agency, which boasts of the best officers in the police, always goes off track or meets a dead end whenever a powerful politician’s role emerges during the course of the investigation in the case? Why do such cases drag on and on for years and go through many twists and turns before ending up in huge embarrassment for the ‘caged parrot’? Why is there so much of jostling, politicking and acrimony over the selection of the man for the top post?

If you are an Odia, you must have wondered why the agency has been alternatively blowing hot and cold while carrying out the probe into the mega chit fund scam in the state that flourished for years before coming bust for over four years now. We had so far attributed the meandering nature of the investigation to ‘probe fixing’ by political leaders at the highest level. But the Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana spat in the CBI has raised the scary possibility that top officers of the agency have used the political détente between the BJP and BJD to their advantage to enrich themselves. One shudders to think that the man being probed for accepting a bribe of Rs 3 crore from an accused and plotting against his own boss was here only last June to ‘take stock’ of the ‘progress’ of the probe into the chit fund scam!

As the Director (Verma) and his deputy (Asthana) were sent on leave and made way for another man with a tainted past (Nageswar Rao) as temporary chief of CBI, it is clear that the rot in the agency has gone far deeper than previously suspected. So far, we only knew that the agency did the bidding of the central government of the day in politically sensitive cases. But the details that have emerged during what has been dubbed the ‘CBI vs. CBI’ fight – which saw the unprecedented spectacle of the CBI ‘raiding’ its own headquarters and probing malfeasance on the part of its top officers – suggest that mandarins of the agency could well be running an ‘extortion racket’ while investigating mega bucks cases! While it is true that it is only an allegation as of now, the frequent flip-flops in cases like the one against meat exporter Moin Qureshi and the chit fund case in Odisha suggest that the allegation could not have come out of the blue.

It is not as if there are no competent officers in CBI. In fact, it has the best in the business, who have cracked the most difficult and complicated cases in the past – but only when the investigation does not end up at the doorsteps of a powerful politician. The agency is forced to stay on course only when the Supreme Court monitors the investigation as in the 2G and the coal scams during UPA rule and the corruption case against RJD boss Laloo Prasad Yadav. But there are times when scheming politicians find a way of manipulating even court-monitored investigation as happened in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom case. A similar attempt to derail the probe was made in the 2G scam case during Manmohan Singh’s reign too, but it only earned a severe reprimand for the government and the ignominious ‘caged parrot’ tag for the CBI from the bench.

All governments since the days of Indira Gandhi have systematically chiseled away at the autonomy of institutions, including the CBI. But the Narendra Modi government has taken it to a new low. In its desperate bid to have its men in key institutions, the NDA government has thrown all caution and fear of public backlash out of the window. In asking former SC judge Justice AK Patnaik to supervise the probe against Alok Verma, the Supreme Court has made it clear that it does not fully trust the impartiality of the Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC), the agency that is seen as the ‘conscience keeper’ of the nation expected to ensure that corruption cases are probed honestly, diligently and without the fear of politicians.

If governments had the slightest desire or commitment to restore to agencies like CBI or CVC their lost credibility, things would not have come to such a pass. The reforms would have started right after the ‘caged parrot’ snub and the rap on the knuckle by the SC back in 2011. The conduct of the Union government – both during the UPA rule and in the Modi dispensation – prove beyond that they care two hoots about the credibility of the CBI and would leave no stone unturned to finish whatever little of it remains. And with the Parliament having become a handmaiden of the ruling party, there is not a hope in hell that politicians would ever do anything about it.

The ball is now in the Supreme Court’s court. Here is hoping that the ugly spat between Verma and Asthana ends up in something positive and a system is put in place at the behest of the apex court that makes manipulating agencies like the CBI and the CVC extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the politicians.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)