In a surprise midnight move, the government divested Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana of their powers, just hours after Verma directed his No. 2 to go on leave. The government intervened after days of intense feuding that threatened to sully the image of India’s premier investigative agency that is probing a series of high-profile corruption cases. Tuesday’s moves by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are indicative of a sudden scramble by the government to prevent a perceived failure of governance.
The government stepped in with a sledgehammer two days after the internecine warfare between Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Kumar Verma and his deputy, special director Rakesh Asthana, spilled onto the streets. Both top officers were sent on leave and M. Nageswara Rao was appointed as the acting director.
Months before the rift between CBI director Alok Verma and second-in-command Rakesh Asthana escalated, the CVC had brought to the notice of the government a complaint against Verma. The CVC had forwarded a lawyer’s complaint against Verma to the DoPT in April.
The recent happenings at the CBI are unprecedented. Never has the premier investigating agency of the country been in similar crisis. These events will have ramifications on the dignity, discipline and image of CBI. The question that should be troubling us is how are things so opaque within our investigative agency? With serious charges and counter-charges flying thick and fast, the ordinary citizen may be left wondering as to what really goes on behind closed doors at the CBI.
About Central Bureau of Investigation
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) owes its origin to the Special Police Establishment, constituted by the British government in 1941, which was substituted by the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.
The CBI came into existence on 1 April, 1963, through a Government of India resolution. The establishment of the CBI was recommended by the Sanathan Committee on Prevention of Corruption (1962-64).
CBI is the foremost investigative police agency in India. It is non-constitutional and non-statutory body. It’s investigative and jurisdiction powers are governed by the DSPE Act, 1946. [Motto: Industry, Impartiality, Integrity]
It is under administrative control of Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Ministry of Personnel.
The CBI is headed by a Director and he is assisted by a Special Director or an additional director. Additionally, it has a number of joint directors, deputy inspector generals, superintendents of police and all other usual ranks of police personnel.
The agency has been known to investigate several economic crimes, special crimes, cases of corruption and other high-profile cases.
The CBI is subject to three ministries of the Government of India and Two Constitutional bodies
- Ministry of Home Affairs: Cadre Clearance
- DoPT: Administration, Budget and Induction of non IPS officers
- Union Public Service Commission: Officers of and above the rank of Deputy SPECIES
- Law and Justice Ministry: Public prosecutors
- Central Vigilance Commission: Anti-corruption cases.
Functions of the CBI
- Investigating cases of corruption, bribery and misconduct of Central government employees
- Investigating cases relating to infringement of fiscal and economic laws, that is, breach of laws concerning export and import control, customs and central excise, income tax, foreign exchange regulations and so on. However, such cases are taken up either in consultation with or at the request of the department concerned.
- Investigating serious crimes, having national and international ramifications, committed by organized gangs of professional criminals.
- Coordinating the activities of the anti-corruption agencies and the various state police forces.
- Taking up, on the request of a state government, any case of public importance for investigation.
- Maintaining crime statistics and disseminating criminal information.
The CBI is a multidisciplinary investigation agency of the Government of India and undertakes investigation of corruption-related cases, economic offences and cases of conventional crime. It normally confines its activities in the anti-corruption field to offences committed by the employees of the Central Government and Union Territories and their public sector undertakings.
It takes up investigation of conventional crimes like murder, kidnapping, rape etc., on reference from the state governments or when directed by the Supreme Court/High Courts. The CBI acts as the “National Central Bureau” of Interpol in India. The Interpol Wing of the CBI coordinates requests for investigation-related activities originating from Indian law enforcement agencies and the member countries of the Interpol.
Not the First time that CBI is in news for wrong reasons
The Supreme Court (SC) raised questions on the CBI’s independence while hearing the Coalgate scam case, called it a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”. The SC had then asked the Centre to make the CBI impartial and said it needs to be ensured that the CBI functions free of all external pressures. In response to this, the Centre filed an affidavit stating following measures it will adopt to ensure the autonomy of the CBI:
- CBI director will be appointed by a collegium comprising of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of the Opposition.The CBI director cannot be appointed or removed without the consent of this collegium.
- The CBI director can be removed on the grounds of misbehavior only by an order from the Presidentafter an inquiry.
- There will be an accountability commission headed by three retired Supreme Court or High Court judges. The committee will look into cases of grievances against the CBI.
- The affidavit said that CVC will have the power of superintendence and administration over the CBI for all cases to be probed under the Prevention of Corruption Act but such power would vest in the Centre for rest of the cases.
- A Bill would be introduced in Parliament to ensure financial autonomy to the agency.
- Sanction for probe:Centre shall take a decision on a request to sanction for probe against officers of the level of Jt. Secretary and above within a period of three months and give reasons if sanction is denied.
Issues with CBI
- Vulnerability to political pressure: The CBI has often been criticised for its alleged failure to function impartially and objectively as an agency of law and acting at the government’s behest. However, simultaneously there has always been an ever-increasing demand for investigation of complicated cases involving influential persons to be handed over to the CBI. In 2013, the Supreme Court called it a “caged parrot”.
- Issue with legislation: The charter of duties of the CBI is not protected by legislation. Instead, its functions are based merely on a government resolution that draws its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946- a colonial law. Critics are of the opinion that this makes CBI merely the premier investigative arm of the Union government.
- No own cadre: The CBI is run by officers on deputation, who are susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers as they are dependent on the Central government for future postings
- Internal conflicts: Internal conflicts in CBI are a major challenge to the functioning of the organization. The present conflict between Director and Special Director and their public allegations against each other raises serious questions about the integrity and image of the agency.
- Delays in concluding investigations: An enormous delay in concluding investigations is a major criticism of CBI. Supreme Court and High Courts hand over a large number of sensitive cases to the CBI for investigation without additional manpower.
- Human Resource Challenge: It also faces an acute shortage of manpower in the ranks of Constable, Head Constable, Inspector and Superintendent of Police.
- Low conviction: In majority of the cases of corruption and financial irregularities probed by the CBI, conviction rates are very low
- Dependence on State governments: CBI is its dependence on State governments for invoking its authority to investigate cases in a State, even when such investigation targets a Central government employee
- Misuse of CBI: There have been allegations that the government misuses CBI to target opposition parties and settle political scores. This has largely been responsible for the state governments’ opposition to enacting a Central law for the CBI.
- Overlapping of functions: A Parliamentary Standing Committee (2015) observed that there is an overlap in jurisdictions of CVC, CBI and Lokpal in certain cases with potential to create serious functional problems. The Committee observed that existing provisions make it possible for a complaint of corruption against an official being simultaneously dealt by multiple agencies.
- Exclusion from RTI: The role and transparency of CBI investigation raised public debate in Bofors scam, Jain hawala, 2G scam, coal scam and other prominent cases. However, even after the enactment of the RTI Act, 2005, the CBI has managed to keep itself outside the purview of the Act.
What the Court has ordered in the Recent Case
The Supreme Court ordered Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its ongoing inquiry against exiled CBI Director Alok Verma in two weeks. The CVC inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of Former Apex Court judge, Justice A.K.Patnaik. Mr.Nageswara Rao will take care of only routine tasks to keep the CBI functioning. He is barred from taking any major or policy decisions.
All the decisions taken by Mr. Rao (as a Director of CBI) “from October 23 up to this hour” have come under scanner of the Supreme Court. The Court asked the list of all decisions taken by Mr. Rao to be placed before the Bench on November 12 in a sealed cover.
A ‘Rule of Law’ Crisis
It is perhaps futile to lament that the politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been a work in progress for years and that the midnight coup was only its latest manifestation
But this is not about two IPS officers; it is not even about the CBI or its presumed image or its subverted autonomy, it is about the future of the rule of law.
It has played a pivotal role in criminal justice delivery as highlighted in tough cases like Satyam scam investigation, Bhanvari Devi Murder etc. However myriad of responsibilities over categories like Corruption & fraud, economic crimes, special crimes including terrorist attacks has overburdened it and reduced its efficiency.
Rule of law is much more than a set of interlocking procedures and principles; it is a sense of shared confidence among citizens and other constitutional stakeholders that values of justness and fairness are not subject to the whims and fancies of the rulers of the day.
- The first reform is to ensure that CBI operates under a formal, modern legal frameworkthat has been written for a contemporary investigative agency.
- A new CBI Actshould be promulgated that ensures the autonomy of CBI while at the same time improving the quality of supervision.
- The Lokpal Actalready calls for a three-member committee made up of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice of the Supreme Court to select the director. However, not enough has been done to administratively protect CBI from political interference. For this to happen, the new Act must specify criminal culpability for government interference.
- One of the demands that have been before Supreme Court, and in line with international best practices, is for the CBI to develop its own dedicated cadre of officers who are not bothered about deputation and abrupt transfers.
- The CBI did recruit some officers in the past to its cadre, but that effort has gone nowhere, and all senior posts in the CBI are now held by Indian Police Service (IPS) officers.
- It is also possible to consider granting the CBIand other federal investigation agencies the kind of autonomy that the Comptroller and Auditor General enjoy as he is only accountable to the Parliament.
- A more efficient parliamentary oversightover the federal criminal and intelligence agencies could be a way forward to ensure better accountability, despite concerns regarding political misuse of the oversight.
- The CBI is not really popular among the youth who are looking for Central government employment through the Union Public Service Commission examination route, other than those appearing for the All India Services, including the Indian Police Service. This makes a case for a fresh look at the service conditions for direct recruitment to the CBI.
Major Committees and recommendations regarding CBI
- Singh Committee, 1978 recommended the enactment of a comprehensive central legislation to remove the deficiency of not having a central investigative agency with a self-sufficient statutory charter of duties and functions.
- Estimates Committee of the Parliament (1991-92) under Jaswant Singh had recommended that the CBI be given statutory status and have legal powers to investigate cases with inter-state ramifications
- The 19th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2007) recommended that a separate Act should be promulgated for the CBI in tune with the requirements of the time to ensure credibility and impartiality.
- The 24th report of the parliamentary standing committee (2008) was of the unanimous opinion that “the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources”.
- Parliamentary Committee (2015) recommended integrating Central Vigilance Commission and anti-corruption wing of the CBI to work directly under the command and control of Lokpal to deal with corruption cases.
T he court’s interim order thus goes beyond calming the air. It works as a safeguard against any further damage to the institution’s reputation and credibility during the pendency of the case, and is a means to a quick resolution. It also preserves the legal questions arising from the government’s action based on the CVC’s order against him.
Notice has been issued to the government in both Mr. Verma’s petition and another by the NGO ‘Common Cause’ challenging the order against Mr. Verma. Questions such as whether the CVC’s power of superintendence extends to recommending stripping a Director of his powers and functions and whether such a step requires the approval of the committee that appoints the Director are still open for adjudication. Judicial intervention often serves to quieten the mood in a surcharged atmosphere. Reports that four men from the IB were caught by Mr. Verma’s security staff on suspicion of mounting surveillance on him cause unease. This is no time for distrust and mutual recrimination.
A comprehensive act of Parliament setting out the autonomy, powers, etc. is the first step towards improving the CBI’s autonomy. CBI is an agency of Central Government that has wide range of investigating areas and powers. It was formed with a goal to check corruption and other crimes in the nation and so it shall maintain a clean image of itself. The goal of reforms should be to make CBI more autonomous in nature by seeing examples of exceptional well run agencies like CIA, FBI in USA. Greater Political will is required to achieve it which should also keep in mind that it will not deprive them (CBI) of accountability.