NEW DELHI — Observing that the possibility of the CBI being used as a “political instrument” remains ever present, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi posed a question on Tuesday “why is that whenever there is no political overtone to a case, the agency does a good job”.
Gogoi said that efforts should be made to “delink crucial aspects” of the CBI from the overall administrative control of the government.
He also suggested for putting ‘public order’ in the concurrent list, for the limited purposes of investigating interstate crimes.
Delivering the 18th D P Kohli memorial lecture, organised by the agency after a hiatus of two years, Gogoi said the CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Kohli was the founder Director of the agency.
The legal mandate of the CBI must be strengthened by having a comprehensive legislation addressing deficiencies relating to organisational structure, charter of functions, limits of power, superintendence, and oversight, Gogoi said.
He said as the superintendence and control of the CBI continues to, in large measure, lie with the executive through Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the “possibility of it being used as a political instrument” remains ever present.
“I have no doubt that there is more than enough strength within the organisation to deal with any such situation,” he said.
He said the continued failure of the successive governments to initiate reforms aimed at instilling autonomy, accountability and professionalism in the working of the CBI resulted in public interest litigations marking the beginning of concerted efforts by the judiciary to remedy some of its maladies.
The apex court issued extensive guidelines to secure its functioning from excessive political interference, he said.
“The supervision and control had to be such that it ensured that the police and the agency served the people without any regard, whatsoever, to the status and position of any person while investigating a crime or taking preventive measures,” he said.
He said its approach had to be service-oriented, its role has to be defined so that in appropriate cases, where on account of acts of omission and commission of agency, the Rule of Law became a casualty, the guilty personnel were brought to book and appropriate action taken without any delay.
Gogoi said many recommendations of the judiciary to reform the functioning of the the CBI have been accepted as it is by the central government.
“However, given the entrenched afflictions, the current challenge is to ascertain how to make the CBI functional as an efficient and impartial investigative agency fully motivated and guided by the objectives of service to the public at large, upholding the constitutional rights and liberty of the people, and capable of performing in increasingly complex time,” he said.
The 5 big concerns
The CJI categorised the “crucial concerns” regarding the CBI in five heads ― Legal ambiguity, weak human resources, lack of adequate investment, accountability and political and administrative interference.
Underlining legal ambiguities in the functioning of the CBI, the CJI said in order to conduct investigation into a state, consent of the concerned state is crucial.
“Given vested interests or bureaucratic lethargy, such consent is often either denied or delayed, severely compromising the investigation,” he said.
He said to address an increasing incidence of interstate crimes, an argument could be made for including ‘public order’ in concurrent list, for the limited purposes of investigating such crimes.
Administrative autonomy without financial autonomy makes for a toothless tiger, he said underlining persistent demand of the agency for financial autonomy.
“Ironically, however various committees, including the Parliamentary Committee, has on numerous occasions pointed to the slow pace of fund utilisation, which in turn led to steep reduction of funds. This does not augur well for the numerous projects undertaken by the CBI...,” he said.
He, however, cautioned that autonomy without accountability would endanger the very objectives that animated the formation of the institution.
Gogoi also suggested to fill vacancies in the CBI, training of its manpower and maintain morale of the force by enforcing stringent internal accountability.
He said as a multi-faceted multi-disciplinary investigating agency with a wide range of work, the CBI has for the most part enjoyed tremendous trust of the citizens.
Unfortunately, attention is more often than not drawn to failure than success of any public institution, he said.
“True, in a number of high-profile and politically-sensitive cases the agency has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny. Equally true it is that such lapses may not have happened infrequently,” he said
Such instances reflect systemic issues and indicate a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics, he said.
“Why is that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, the CBI does a good job. A reverse situation led to the celebrated case of Vineet Narain vs UOI, wherein the SC expressing concern at the state of affairs, laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force,” he said.
Given the intense scrutiny that working of the CBI is being subjected to, public perception of the agency must be of the highest degree, he said.