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Used and abused at large

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is gradually morphing into a non-credible and tainted agency. It won’t be long before the CBI is deemed as a ‘club of politically manipulated officers and a spineless department’. The sudden closure of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s disproportionate asset case is a proof. It’s no surprise that this move from the CBI coincides with Yadav extending his political hands to the ruling government, and the lack of proper investigation in the 2G spectrum and Commonwealth games corruption cases (these scams do have participants from the UPA circle).

Today, the CBI has become synonymous with an agency that is politically manipulated and used and abused at large. Tales of the weak-willed nature of the CBI are told in Indian political corridors. There is enough proof that in recent past, the nodal agency has apparently been used to settle big political scores. Think of these cases handled by the CBI – case against YSR Congress party chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy (disproportionate asset case), case against BSP chief Mayawati (disproportionate asset case), the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case (to trap incumbent government in Gujarat), case against the Reddy brothers (arrested as they were reportedly close to the BJP), and many more. And of course, all this is in addition to the manner in which the incumbent government uses the CBI to conceal its wrongdoings like saving Jasbir Singh (in the Tytler case) and Sajjan Singh. So misused is CBI that the Supreme Court once said, ‘It has to be borne in mind that the purpose of these proceedings is essentially to ensure performance of the statutory duty by the CBI and the other government agencies in accordance with law for the proper implementation of the rule of law… The duty of the court in such proceedings is, therefore, to ensure that the CBI and other government agencies do their duty and do so strictly in conformity with law...’ Thinking heads in the CBI must be reminded of this quick historical caution passed by the Supreme Court in the ‘Union of India and Ors v Sushil Kumar Modi and Ors [(1997).4.SCC.770]’ case.

In the past, I have written on how the CBI should be made independent like the CAG or the EC. But it’s easier said than done. The Supreme Court of India should form an independent committee and investigate the activities of the CBI. It should immediately pass an order making CBI accountable to a special committee formed by ex-chief justices of India, military veterans and the present chief justice of India. That will go a long way in preventing the agency from being treated like a door-mat by corrupt politicians. No doubt, CBI suffers from shortage of staff but then the current strength has got reduced to puppets managed by the political class. In my previous article on this issue, I had mentioned how CBI falls under the age-old (of the Jurassic era, as compared to modern agencies worldwide) Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) act, that itself is obsolete.  

Let’s for once compare CBI with America’s investigation agency FBI. CBI has intentionally been made a defunct agency. The purpose – to cripple its investigative methods and make manipulation easier for those interested. The average budget for CBI over the last few years has not risen from range of Rs 400-450 crore ($64-$72 million) range per year. Compare that to the budget of $8.23 billion that FBI has at its disposal (FY2013). This further dilutes the core motives of the very agency (CBI) and its bribe-taking officials. The desperation and handicaps of CBI can be gauged through the manner in which it has been portrayed in Indian Cinema. (Compare these to the strong manner in which the FBI agency and its officers are portrayed in most Hollywood flicks).

Problem is, CBI is too centralised. This further increases political interference. Interestingly, a major chunk of money allocated to CBI is directed towards establishment cost and infrastructure and that too for an agency that is located at one place and not spread across the nation unlike FBI.

What is left on offer to the CBI staff in the form of salaries is peanuts. Monthly salaries range between Rs 5,000 and Rs 80,000 – again, compare this to a ‘freshly graduated’ FBI special agent’s monthly salary of around $3,583 (Rs 2,22,849 at today’s conversion rate). In short, the CBI boils down to an agency that lacks well-paid officers, a centralised agency with money spent of buildings and not on staff and a bureau whose officers face budget crunches during the course of their daily chores.

This is where I would request the Supreme Court’s intervention again. Under such a circumstance, the Supreme Court should only be allowed to use the allocated fund in the best interests of the agency. We should immediately ask CBI to be more accountable to SC and its special committee formed for this very particular purpose.

Automatically, such a step would solve multiple issues of CBI – decentralisation, budget shortage and political intervention. Keeping CBI in the clutches of the political class will only ruin the entire agency!

(The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank)
Arindam Chaudhury

Arindam Chaudhury

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