Bansal Family Suicide Puts CBI In the Dock, Calls For a Probe
Bansal family suicide case calls for reform in CBI’s interrogation process, writes former CBI Director RK Raghavan.
The suicides by four members of Delhi’s Bansal family following alleged harsh treatment by the CBI come as a big shock. The note left by BK Bansal - a suspended senior official of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs - makes for sad reading. What is striking is the names of CBI officials recorded specifically in the official’s suicide note.
The temptation for the CBI will be to dismiss it as a canard spread by a corrupt official who could not face the heat of the CBI’s interrogation into his shady deals. I want to believe that the current CBI leadership will not take this easy route. If they did that, they will be inviting a spate of petitions before judicial authorities. In my view, the charge against three senior CBI officials has to be handled squarely, and with the greatest regard for transparency. Such a move will restore the CBI’s image of a professional outfit that can be trusted with handling the most sensitive cases within the realms of human rights.
Probe Should be Conducted by an External Agency
The next question is whether the inquiry into the most unsavoury and unfortunate incident involving the CBI in the recent past should be internal or should it be entrusted to an independent agency.
I quite expect an avalanche of demands from a variety of quarters that would insist on an external inquiry. Here again, I am for conceding to such a demand so that the CBI comes out clear of any allegation of a cover-up.
If the conclusions of an internal inquiry negate Bansal’s allegations, that may not satisfy either Bansal’s family or activists demanding a credible probe by an outside agency.
Can CBI Probe its Own Officials?
Let us now take up the charges against the CBI. It merely suggests a rough handling of the Bansal family on part of the CBI officials who’ve been mentioned by name. ‘Torture’ may or may not include physical assault. Only a detailed probe would reveal whether physical violence was employed against any of the Bansals. It would be scant consolation if no bodily assault is proved. Even threatening a suspect or accused is objectionable in all investigations.
In the present case, it is possible that when those interrogated – including Bansal and his family – refused to fill gaps in the investigation, the CBI official(s) concerned had used abusive language. This had in all likelihood driven the Bansals to take the extreme step. This speculation has led to a demand in some circles that the CBI officers involved in the unfortunate episode should be chargesheeted for abetment to suicide.
Some observers may wonder how the CBI could investigate charges against its own officers. This is nothing new. I myself had ordered a probe against one or two of my prosecutors about fifteen years ago. A few other CBI chiefs had done likewise later. This precedence could influence the present CBI director to do the same. The point, however, is that past investigations were into corruption charges.
The Bansal episode is of a different kind. Here, the allegations relate to rough treatment meted out to suspects in a case of corruption charges against a public servant. Four precious lives have been lost here, and this should be viewed seriously.
Interrogation Process Needs to be Revamped
- A probe by an external agency should be
conducted in the Bansal suicide case as an internal probe may not satisfy the
- The CBI has probed its own in the past, though those cases related to corruption and not allegations of ‘torture’.
- Documentation of interrogation is
advisable, though CBI personnel fear a rise in the number of the accused going scot-free.
- The CBI is plagued with a shortage of
people and, therefore, intensive supervision is impractical.
Reforms Needed in Interrogation Process
There is a suggestion that the procedure for CBI investigation of accused persons has to be reformed. This is most welcome. There is possibly a case for a well-conceived Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) specific to the CBI that would regulate questioning of the accused. Its focus should be on documentation and strict adherence to human rights requirements.
This may be resented by some hard-boiled CBI investigators, who feel that the already modest results in courts could drop further and many guilty persons could go scot-free if we restrain and fetter the freedom of investigating officers. But then, what is more important in a democracy -- civilised treatment of crime suspects or the outcome of criminal investigations? Does the end justify the means? Definitely, all these are age-old ethical questions.
Vetting IPS Officers Being Inducted into the CBI
The final point thrown up by the tragedy is whether there is any way we can build enough safeguards in future for preventing CBI investigators from resorting to high-handedness. Tighter day-to-day supervision is one option. With the mounting burden on the CBI (which is screaming for additional manpower), to expect more intensive supervision of those directly conducting the investigation is impractical. Ultimately, it will depend upon good entry-level training for those recruited directly into the CBI and a relentless indoctrination in favour of humane treatment of the accused.
Rigorous screening of IPS officers being inducted into the CBI is required. I distinctly remember stalling the induction of one senior IPS officer who was moving heaven and earth to make his way into the CBI. He had a dubious human rights record, and I, therefore, thought he was unfit to be a part of the organisation. This particular influential officer never forgave me for this! Sound vetting of officers drawn into the CBI from the states is the sine qua non for a civilised and law-abiding CBI.
CBI Should be Conscious of its Reputation
The bottom line here is that the CBI’s reputation will crumble with more and more charges of violation of human rights. If the CBI cannot steadfastly refrain from browbeating those who are being questioned, no other outfit – in the states or at the Centre - can be the model for rectitude and fairness.
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