CBI MUST BE REINVENTED
The fall of CBI was not swift. It was slow but sure as its political bosses sensed that the Bureau could be made to dance to their tune. Where Morarji Desai had failed, Mrs Gandhi succeeded.
From 1943 to 2017, much water has flowed under the bridge. Starting in Lahore before the Partition, the Viceroy created a hand in glove method to deal with public servants. World War II was raging and they were an impediment to war efforts. The CBI is the name it would later get in 1963. The DSPE (Delhi Special Police Establishment) as it was called, created a wall against which these enemies of the nation capitulated many stalwarts in the organisation, and earned encomiums such as Rai Bahadur. The good work continued in Independent India. The police powers of CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) originate from the DSPE ACT. CBI has earned a reputation and garnered enough respect. This acronym put the fear of God in anyone it investigated.
The founding fathers of CBI in 1963 were Kohli, Sen, Kandaswamy, and Mehta. The first three were cops and the last in the quartet was a man of law. They had many sterling subordinates but it was their leadership that made even mediocre reporting first class. While they were very strict on their own against the corrupt, they also acted against those from the Government who made any undue offers to them. If Ram Nath Goenka and his independent Indian Express needed to be shaken in the early 60's, the CBI would do so. Nothing false was be cooked up. The blood hounds of CBI would go sniffing, find the dope on newsprint (short supply of it in the 60s led to it being sold in the black market) and then go for his legally and cleanly. Before the Emergency, the Birla scions were shaken up for excise defalcation by their textile companies. It is true that around that time, some of them had veered away from the ruling party to support Rajaji's fledgling Swatantra Party. Chief Minister Sukhadia could not be budged as he ruled Rajasthan and brooked no interference. But when CBI's Hingorani, with me in tow, confronted him on the gold missing from Chotti Sadri, he quit. There are instances of misuse of CBI in its earlier years but they are very few. More important is that probity defined majority CBI officers. In the year of the Emergency, most of the quartet had retired and Sen who was then Director kept CBI from doing dirty tricks. His CBI did good work but he failed only during the Emergency. The Shah Commission had many from the CBI including Sen. But on the whole, CBI's stock remained high. Janata Government of Morarji made no sudden changes in the CBI top echelons. Sen was on extension and he was replaced by C V Narsimhan, 1948 topper with a long previous tenure with the CBI. His successor John Lobo also had a long stint with CBI prior to his appointment as Director. Both of them known to be competent, honest, and enjoyed solid respect even outside CBI.
When Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980 She ushered changes. J S Bawa, then Joint Director CBI, took over replacing Rajdeo Singh as the Director. CBI Delhi brazenly manipulated many investigations of crimes during Emergency. CBI ensured that they fail in court. Since the Court threw them out, Mrs Gandhi claimed that then CBI officers had filed false cases. The fall of CBI was not swift. Slow but sure as its political bosses sensed that the Bureau could be made to dance to their tune. Where Morarji Desai had failed, Mrs Gandhi succeeded. George Fernandez remained accused till Government withdrew the criminal charges. CBI (Under Sen) remained steadfast in prosecuting him even after change of guard. From 1980 to 2010 is thirty years of slow decline of CBI, notwithstanding many states of the marvel investigations. Many skeletons are also crammed in CBI's cupboard. To name the prominent ones only: Jain Diaries, Urea Scam, Taj Corridor, RBI dirty role in Harshad Mehta scam, stonewalling Bofors scam, off on investigations against Mulayam Mayavati. CBI acquired some sobriquets in this period. Congress Bureau of Investigation, Corrupt Bureau of Investigation, and finally the infamous caption of all: "Caged parrot".
Whether CBI deserves this opprobrium or not is now an academic matter. It is tarnished and tainted. My answer is let CBI go back to basics. States should build their own State Bureau of Investigation and withdraw consent to CBI functioning in the States. The Constitution lists Law and Order as a State subject. CBI's right to function in States is not a vested right. This is Supreme Court's judgment and under article 142 it is the law of the land.
Delhi, like Washington, is a swamp. CBI under DSPE Act will have its jurisdiction in Delhi and other Union Territories. Cleaning the cesspool that Delhi is, CBI will have its hands full. The added gains will be at least two-fold. No State can then allege that CBI has been let loose by the power in Delhi on political opponents in the State. Secondly, investigation against the corrupt will be the sole responsibility of the State where corruption has taken place, not CBI's. Come elections, the voter will judge them on their record here. Yes, the force that the State will create to curb big and small corruption will generate jobs and employment too.
Eventually, corrections may come about. A cleaner, leaner, chastened CBI may turn over a new leaf. Courts and State Governments may then seek its services in complicated investigations. But now CBI, like Samson, needs to be sheared.
(Shantonu Sen is former Joint Director of CBI. The views expressed are strictly personal.)