The strong strictures passed by the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the government and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the matter of the coal block allocation scam status report have not been unexpected. The Supreme Court has consistently taken a serious view these last few years of the interference and meddling by the government in the work of the CBI. The Supreme Court has now seen through the brazen lies and posturing of the CBI and the government which had claimed that the changes made in the report by law minister Ashwani Kumar and by the officials of the prime minister’s office were merely cosmetic for it has noted that these went to the heart of the report. The Supreme Court had expected the CBI to give it an independent report on the probe but all it got was a corrected draft which is nothing but a shoddy attempt to influence the judicial course and outcome. The CBI has behaved disgracefully in not standing up to the government which has committed a grave impropriety for which there is no defence and for which there must be repercussions. At stake are the several corruption scandals that have plagued the country and which are being investigated by the CBI.
Never before has the CBI had so many high profile corruption cases before it but these have only highlighted its supine inability to function freely. If its reports are tampered with it is no wonder that so many of its investigations remain questionable. The heart of the problem is that of ensuring its independence from the government and until this is done it will remain, in the memorable words of the Supreme Court, ‘a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice’. The Supreme Court is aware of the strong need for ensuring the CBI’s independence for it has suggested to the government that it make a law to this end. It has noted that the CBI’s status as an independent agency has only worsened since its landmark judgment in the Vineet Narain case in 1997 in which the court had laid down several guidelines to ensure the CBI’s autonomy. These guidelines have been subverted by the government as whose handmaiden the hamstrung CBI now functions. There is hardly any question of the ends of justice being met and of the guilty being brought to the book if the very persons who are to be investigated supervise the CBI. There must be no vacillation on a law for ensuring the CBI’s independence.