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What ails thee?

The CBI took off as an undeterred symbol of efficacy in the Indian state, yet, over the years, its image has been tarnished by controversies.

What ails thee?

Our premier investigation agency has long been bad-mouthed by politicians and the media. But the public did not yet write it off. It continued to shower it with more respect than it did to the neighbourhood police. But after the Arushi verdict, that fig leaf is off. The lay public is dismayed, and as more revelations unfurl they are furious, and finally abusive. Like pus on the pimple, the Enforcement Directorate charge sheet against Moin Akhtar Querishi has arrived amid deep antagonism. The finding that he has laundered bribe money into valuable foreign exchange for two of its Directors has CBI down for the count. The amounts too are large, Rs 5.75 crores for one and 1.75 crores for the other.

The CBI has, over time, earned a fabulous reputation as an investigation organisation. By the mid-seventies, its findings were equated with the judgments of our High Courts. Humble beginnings, a temporary set up in the early forties, fortified with an ordinance to curb corruption in India's War Department, it earned permanent spurs as a Special Police Establishment. Its first Inspector General in the early-fifties, Bambewale, was succeeded by DP Kohli. Both garnered tremendous foresight. They saw corruption as a menacing monster which will irrevocably hamper India's place in the comity of nations. DP Kohli and Lal Bahadur Shastri, our Home Minister, made it a permanent police department and named it the Central Bureau of Investigation. This was on April 1, 1963.
Good manpower blossoms from the roots that have been planted. This truth impelled DP Kohli to start recruiting CBI officers from 1963 itself. He, by training, was a man with an eye for detail. He instinctively grasped the raw material presented to him by the UPSC, needed to begin grooming detectives. The organisation which he planned and meticulously worked on had envisaged the creation of a pool of ace detectives. No longer was the field work of criminal investigation of sensitive cases restricted in the hands of the lower echelons of the police, or with those who were in higher ranks after several promotions, as it is in every state and now, even in the CBI. He had focused on UPSC selected inductees who would be specially trained to take on the crucial investigations.
They would register the First Information Reports (FIR), hear the complainants, seal and search the scene of crime, record the statements of the witnesses, arrest the accused, obtain a remand for further investigation, write the case diaries, appear in person before the trial magistrate to answer before the court. In other words, important crime investigation was allotted to trained detectives, who survived the tough process of UPSC screening. This is, however, no longer the practice.
Every year five to seven young UPSC selectees from 1963 to 1976 were so inducted into the CBI with opportunities to rise and hold high positions, including the top ranks in the CBI. In the next dozen years, after 1963, when the CBI's stock went soaring high, DP Kohli's magic was passed into the hands of Devinder Sen, who was the next long-serving Director of the CBI.
With Sen's retirement in 1976, the scheme which ensured that an annual stream of young and zealous enthusiasts entered the CBI to be trained as detectives, hit a sudden bump. Why, how, when and who is not relevant. But that the competent CBI then became sick is relevant. Around the same time in the appointment of Directors, experience in the CBI became irrelevant. When Kohli retired in 1965, FV Arul with no experience in the CBI was appointed as the Director. He unambiguously failed the CBI. He was replaced by Sen. He was then made the DGP of Tamil Nadu. He was a good DGP but an unfit Director of the CBI! Thereafter, till the 80s, all Directors of the CBI were those who have had tenures within different ranks in the organisation. They had imbibed the culture of the CBI before being elevated.
This unspoken guideline of the appointment of Directors in the CBI has been thrown aside on several occasions after the 80's. When it was not dismissed, the CBI functioned well. Each time it was, the institution suffered. So much so that the ill effects of the damage were institutionalised. They even inducted undesirable officers into the organisation. Some of them, in due course of time, became Directors and proclaimed no belief or faith in the CBI culture. What they have done to tarnish the CBI's image is there for everyone to witness, as the chickens have come home to roost with the ED charge sheet against Moin Akhtar Querishi.
Many wrongs plague the CBI if one were to just list the strictures that the courts of trial and appeal have been freely making against the CBI's investigating officers and prosecutors over a period of time. The most recent being the strictures by the Allahabad High Court in the Arushi Murder. The original sin is the deviation from Kohli's vision of the nature of CBI detectives and his vision of the human material that should head the CBI. Kohli had inducted Sen as his successor and FV Arul was appointed despite him. But timely rectification saved the CBI then. The presence of Kohli –Sen for seventeen years at the helm, marked the golden years of the CBI. Later, whenever the CBI had periods of greatness after the 80s, it was when their nomination in the CBI within the junior ranks achieved higher ranks including the very top rank in the CBI. Between the 80s and the 90s, there were not many but some who made it; Narasimhan, Lobo, Katre, Shekhar, and Dutta did the CBI proud. Others, who could have done their best, have failed the CBI. They either had no earlier tenure or a forgettable tenure in the CBI. The future of the CBI lies in restoring the Kohli-Sen vision of CBI, which is a permanent pool of detectives with a Director chosen entirely on the merit of his past record in the CBI. There is life after despair, said Satre.
(The author is former Joint Director of the CBI. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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