Millennium Post

CBI needs real autonomy

The loss of reputation and pride of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) because of its questionable performance in the 2G Spectrum case and the Commonwealth Games scam is not just because of CBI’s jocular nom de plume being the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’, but also because of the fact that even if the CBI wants to do something, it cannot! The reason is straightforward. The CBI’s resources are in serious short supply.

In this year’s Union budget, a hilarious amount of Rs 416.66 crore has been allocated to the CBI. Considering that there is an increase of 14 per cent as compared to the last financial year, one can only wonder how shamefully minimalistic have the past allocations been.

In contrast, the FBI’s budget was a mind-boggling $8,118 million for the year 2012. And also consider the fact that the CBI’s domain is 1.2 billion people as against 300 million for the FBI. That makes a case for an increase of 400 times in the budget allocation for the CBI.

The CBI network is divided into 10 different zones, with two to three locations covered under each zone. The hinterland largely escapes the CBI’s coverage domain as the so-called Special Crime Zones are mostly concentrated in Delhi and Mumbai. And the less one talks about forensics, the better. If a crime takes place, the forensic team has to rush from Delhi to unearth the case because there is no other forensic office of the CBI outside the capital.

Really, why is the body so centralised? Why can’t it have effective operations from all corners of the country? The answers lie in the CBI’s weak infrastructure and the (perhaps deliberate) lack of political will. The present state of the CBI provides evidence enough about the ineffective investigative procedures that haunt the department and its handling of cases. For instance, the CBI has had to repeatedly knock at the doors of external agencies (like the FBI during the Bhanwari Devi case as Indian agency is not equipped with the latest technology to extract forensic details from human remains post-cremation).

The Indian electorate is not mature enough to be sensitive about the CBI’s cause. Therefore, the ruling regime makes no hue and cry about the successive failures of the CBI, exemplified by its lopsided ‘success’ rate, for example in defence-related cases, where the the agency has obtained just one conviction out of the 22 cases under its purview since 2004.

With respect to the current allocation, a major chunk of the same is targeted towards establishment costs – because the CBI is not spread out enough. So, if there is a marginal increase in allocation, there will be likewise only a marginal increase in its network, and the CBI would be endlessly stuck in the same place. In contrast, the FBI is spread over 56 field offices and 370 resident agencies across the US, giving it the requisite latitude and penetration to reach every home of the country.

The roll strength of the FBI is an awe-inspiring 34,083 for FY 2013; the CBI has only 6,590 sanctioned employees, with 924 positions still lying vacant. Worse, the salary of the staff hardly matches the per capita income of the nation. The pay-scale ladder begins at a humiliating Rs 5,200 per month for constables and increases at a snail’s pace as you move up the ladder.

Even domestic helps, these days, earn more than this!

The Director of CBI, sitting at the top of the entire hierarchy, earns not more than Rs 80,000 per month. Compare this to the salary of a new FBI special agent who draws nothing less than $43,000 as his base salary! And on top of all this is corruption and political influence, a nod-and-wink arrangement between the CBI and the ruling party, which makes transgression a habitual behaviour for this so-called elite organisation. Imagine the dilemma a junior investigative officer faces when he/she unearths scams worth tens or hundreds of crores, or for that matter finds out cash hidden that is to the tune of hundred or even thousand times his annual salary? Keeping the CBI small and confined allows the government to dictate the working of the bureau.

Going by the way corruption cases and scams are being exposed, the CBI needs to be made an independent, investigative body. This should start with an allocation that is at least 10 times that of the current pittance. The money must be necessarily used for the expansion of the bureau with units in almost all cities across the nation. Another huge chunk of the allocation should be dedicated towards improving the CBI’s technology to state-of-the-art standards and towards establishment of modern research labs. Finally, the salary of the staff should be made at par with their counterparts across the world. No agent would be able to do justice to his role if his life is surrounded with financial worries and an indecent living condition.

The CBI should be made independent and self-sufficient. We need to replicate the FBI, where the staff is bestowed with not only enough authority but also is allocated with enough funds meant to upkeep the very objective of such an organisation. What is needed is a well-equipped CBI that can deal with all possible forms of crimes and terrorism than being confined to being a mere puppet.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank

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