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CBI's fall from glory

Shantonu Sen & N Dilip Kumar discuss the severe debacle of CBI and its course towards restoration

CBIs fall from glory

The awe-inspiring Central Bureau of Investigation is ailing; is in a bind. It is in the dumps. Serious afflictions have been debilitating it for years and only cosmetic efforts have been made to cure its afflictions; yet so, the puss has erupted out into the open. The Supreme Court has been reading the symptoms loudly. There was an upheaval in the form of Anna's anti-corruption movement suggesting the cure. But, governments in power ignored everything; allowed the decay that began a couple of decades ago to reach its present state. Everyone who regards this world-class agency as the ultimate one for investigations, and everyone who had worked and nourished it painstakingly, is anguished. They still hope to see its honour and glory restored.

Rupak Dutta, with all his experience in all ranks, SP to Special Director, in the CBI, was ejected, and Rakesh Asthana with his experience only as SP in CBI was made the acting Director by this government, although he was two ranks lower to him. An act as immoral as any. To add insult to the injury, CBI was foisted with a Director who had never held any rank in the CBI. Be that it may, being the nominees of the present government, they were expected to supplement each other and work together for the good of this organisation. However, it did not happen. Instead, leakages of their spats went public, which increased after Asthana was elevated as Special Director, despite the objection of his Director. They fell out over spoils. Now, an FIR is registered against Asthana in a bribery case linked to the infamous Moin Khureshi money-laundering matter and the Director is under the scanner. There are several allegations and counter allegations, all serious, involving the questions of integrity of both of these officers. Under these circumstances, divesting the powers of both of them in order to get an enquiry conducted by the CVC appears reasonable. However, Supreme Court's directions to get the enquiry completed in two weeks' time against the director, that too under the control of ex-judge of the SC, must be going against the plan of the government to get it delayed, at least until he retires in January 2019. Meanwhile, to further discomfiture of the government, the opposition parties have linked this government action to the potential danger of exposure of Rafale deal that would endanger the reputation of Modi in this election year.

But, the entire episode leaves us with a bitter taste. It is not without reason that CBI has been the butt of criticism by the public, litigants, politicians, judiciary, bureaucrats, and the media, and epithets like 'Congress Bureau of Investigation', 'caged parrot' etc., are tagged to it. There is palpable contamination in its distinct culture that was nurtured through certain norms and traditions introduced by the founding fathers and their successors. Since the time it was created as Special Police Establishment to fight corruption in War Department in 1941, and subsequently christened as CBI in 1963, the organisation was only scaling heights of glory until the decay started.

Integrity, to the extent of puritanism, of the officers selected was the foremost element that had symbolised and shaped the CBI; even flaunting of costly attires, watches, etc., was frowned upon and discouraged; using government vehicles and phones was never thought of. Similarly, an absolutely impartial investigation was the norm so that every case would be handled only on its merits; no deviations permitted. Then, as for the professional task of investigation, very elaborate monitoring mechanisms were designed. A competent authority was designated on the basis of the rank of the accused to initiate, monitor and decide about the fate of the case. CBI takes pride in its high-in-hierarchy who are its ace detectives and who in turn are motivated and guided to pull up their socks in all their areas of their work on a daily basis. Unlike the investigations in police stations, only officers of the rank of Inspectors, Dy SPs, and SPs work as the detectives in CBI. And their superiors keep a hawk's eye on their daily output, whether it's their performance in detection or in court or in detecting the corrupt wherever there is public service. The extent of monitoring is by the way of written directions on reports on a daily basis in most areas, and in other areas on weekly, fortnightly, and monthly basis. This close involvement in the supervision was the hallmark of a CBI output, and hence the high standard of performance.

Gone are those days. Over the period of time CBI has been losing out in this area of its special mark. With Directors and other high ranks of calibre so different than those of yore, their involvement in the day-to-day work of their detectives has also decreased. In a cascading effect, it has loosened the strength of the organisation and caused a loss of its credibility in the eyes of the people at large and the courts too. Further, with induction through UPSC severed from 2000 and a chunk of superior ranked detectives-designate ruled out, and for years people becoming CBI detectives by virtue of their services in BSF, CRPF, ITBP, RPF or non-police organisations, the need of superior monitoring has increased considerably. Frustratingly, at the same time, there appears to be a steep fall in the calibre in those ranks. The result is in the public eye now. Added to this, with the dilution of values in the society, the integrity of the officers in the CBI has also been decreasing; getting "liberalised." Number of Officers of doubtful integrity within CBI has gone up (in 1978 it was 12 and in 2014 it is 54) and is increasing. Compromises in investigations are not uncommon. There is an adverse cultural change, in total deviance from what was practised for years. No wonder, its image has been getting a battering.

The other debilitating sickness is selective amnesia, referring to how CBI is being abused by the political establishment. CBI insiders can quote any number of instances of political interference that have affected its impartiality. In one case, junior officers had to fight tooth and nail to prosecute a Central Excise senior officer based on scientific evidence when the pliable bosses were too willing to oblige the political leadership. A file moved by the junior officers to the director implicating a Congress minister, who had favoured the Reliance to pocket the contract of setting up kiosks in IG airport on Rs 1 charges, without any tenders, was made to vanish. When Trinath Mishra, acting Director, got raids conducted against the Reliance in a case of fraud, it cost him the post of Director CBI. Instances are numerous and are too well-known.

What is to be done? Firstly, the decline in the CBI culture needs to be arrested. For this, proper selection of the leaders is crucial. CBI has an established institutional history, with important features of its growth, culture, important landmarks and slippages. Apart from possessing institutional memory, the leaders must be able to assess and weigh the work of their detectives and issue penned guidance to them. Whispers are doing rounds that in the last two decades many high ranked CBI officers do not write their advisory notes. Often they expect and get a draft placed before them. Thus the application of mind by the high ranks within CBI to their subordinates' work is missing. This explains CBI's poor performance in courts in many high voltage cases in the last two decades. Knowledge of CBI's institutional history and capacity to assess, judge the work of their subordinate detectives must be tested before anyone is inducted into CBI as a Joint Director/ Additional Director/Special Director/ Director. When IPS officers without knowledge of CBI culture or integrity or ability are propelled into CBI, as the present Director and his number two were, the outcome is the comment by a journalist that they are either criminals in uniform or delusional and in either case government is in a morass from which it cannot extricate itself without loss of face. Definitely, CBI needs better. Perhaps, written and viva voce tests should be mandated for entry of senior officers in the CBI. Seriously, we cannot again afford criminals or delusional to man high positions in CBI again.

Then, CBI needs protection from political interference and selective amnesia. It is for this very reason that the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare demanded placing of both the CBI and the CVC under the supervision and control of the autonomous institution of Jan Lokpal, which would ensure its absolute impartiality and effectiveness. A parallel was therefore drawn with the very successful Ombudsman of Sweden. However, all political parties colluded to kill the agitation and create a symbolic Lokpal. CVC and CBI continue to be with the government. And, even the lame-duck Lokpal has not been appointed in the last four years or more. The present imbroglio in the CBI is the writing on the wall that things have to change, necessarily. For this, the Lokpal has to be reshaped in the form demanded by the Anna Movement. Perhaps it is time for another Anna-Kejriwal like anti-corruption movement.

(Shantonu Sen is a former Joint Director of CBI and Dr N Dilip Kumar is former SP and DIG in CBI. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shantonu Sen & N Dilip Kumar

Shantonu Sen & N Dilip Kumar

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