The Central Bureau of Investigation's (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 and completely unexpected closure of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s disproportionate asset case some days back (the CBI claims that his CAs were able to explain how the assets grew so phenomenally in the 12 years leading to 2005 because of loans given by relatives that were claimed to be gifts) is just one instance that proves this fact. Of course, this move from CBI (that its director Ranjit Sinha claims followed a “transparent” check. “We are being very transparent about all cases including this and are ready to stand any legal scrutiny,” said he to the press) coincides with Yadav extending his political hands to the ruling government, and the lack of proper investigation in the 2G Spectrum and Commonwealth Games (CWG) corruption cases (these two scams do have participants from the UPA circle).
Today, CBI has become synonymous with an agency that is politically manipulated and used, reused and abused at large. Tales of the weak-willed and soft nature of CBI are told and retold in modern 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 (YSRCP) chief Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy (disproportionate asset case), case against Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Kumari 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 BJP), and many more. And of course, all this is in addition to the manner in which the incumbent government uses CBI to conceal its wrong doings 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. To achieve this object a fair, honest and expeditious investigation into every reasonable accusation against each and every person reasonably suspected of involvement in the alleged offences has to be made strictly in accordance with 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. In these proceedings, the Court is not required to go into the merits of the accusation or even to express any opinion thereon, which is a matter for consideration by the competent Court in which the charge-sheet is filed and the accused have to face trial. It is, therefore, necessary that not even an observation relating to the merits of the accusation is made by the Court in these proceedings lest it prejudices the accused at the trial. The nature of these proceedings may be described as that of 'continuing mandamus' to require performance of its duty, by the CBI and the other Government agencies concerned...” Thinking heads in CBI must be reminded of this quick historical caution passed by the highest court in our country in the ‘Union of India and Ors. v. Sushil Kumar Modi and Ors. [(1997).4.SCC.770]’ case.
In my previous editorials, I have mentioned how CBI should be made independent like CAG or EC. But then, as they say, it's easier said than done and especially when it comes to passing a bill in the Indian parliament. This is where the Supreme Court should intervene. The Supreme Court of India should form an independent committee and investigate the activities of 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 along way in preventing the agency from being treated like a door-mat by corrupt politicians. Today the most touted investigation agency looks more like a typical government office being run by bureaucrats with no vision or objective. 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. Theaverage 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). Th is 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!] I hardly remember any Indian film that shows how effective and efficient the CBI is in today's era. If reality is portrayed on the big screen, then it's a very disappointing truth we are dealing with. On the other hand, I won't have enough space on these two pages if I were to sit down and enlist foreign films where FBI and CIA are shown battling crime in the most desirable and strong-willed fashion!
Problem is, CBI is too centralized. This further increases political interference. And 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, which has its tentacles reaching the nook and corner of America. What is left on offer to the CBI staff in the form of salaries is peanuts. Monthly salaries range between Rs.5000 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, CBI boils down to an agency that lacks well-paid officers (they live a lifestyle that is unacceptable for officers of such repute, especially when you consider the magnitude and importance of cases they investigate), a centralized 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!