CBI Row: Officers Need to Serve the People, Not the Ruling Party

CBI made headlines recently, due to the alleged discord between its director and special director.

5 min read
CBI Row: Officers Need to Serve the People, Not the Ruling Party

In the news for the wrong reasons, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of late has been attracting public attention for the misdemeanor of it past directors, and more recently, due to the alleged discord between its director and special director that has culminated into Alok Verma tendering his resignation after much political and legal hullabaloo.


Political Interference

It is extremely unfortunate for the bureau, as it hosts officers of impeccable integrity. They would indeed feel disturbed and so would the citizens who frequently demand CBI investigation in complicated, sensitive and controversial crimes. Criminal cases against its former directors – Ranjit Sinha and AP Singh – to say nothing of the unceremonious transfer of its past Special Director Rupak Dutta, tipped to be the director in 2017 – are some of the recent instances that have cast a shadow over the bureau. But more so, on the procedure followed for selecting the top boss of the agency.

Each political party in power wants ‘its own man at the top’, and manoeuvres the procedure in its favour.

In the process, merit is relegated to the back burner, as was in the case of the untimely transfer of Rupak Dutta to ‘accommodate’ the current incumbent Alok Verma, and the controversial induction/promotion of the Special Director Rakesh Asthana.

The high-powered panel for the selection of the director of the CBI has as three members ie the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India. Yet, two of its past directors have been tainted – they have been accused in criminal cases. It is thus a poignant comment on the selection procedure, and a travesty of the highest order.

With ‘Industry, Impartiality, Integrity’ as its motto, the CBI traces its roots to the Special Police Establishment (SPE), set up in 1941 by the Govt of India during World War II, to deal with cases of corruption among central government employees.

The CBI comes under the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), thus directly under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It has a presence in most states in the country. The Bureau has also been notified as the Interpol of India for the purpose of liaison with police organisations of other countries, and to facilitate cooperation in international cases.

Rankings & Leadership

There are two types of officers in the CBI – directly recruited officer investigators / support staff, and investigators and supervisors inducted on deputation from outside. The leadership lies with the Indian Police Service (IPS), with officers selected from all over the country. The CBI does not have a policy like the Intelligence Bureau (IB) or Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), wherein the officers on deputation can get permanently absorbed.

However, the CBI is very careful in its selection of officers on deputation, and formal and informal channels are used for background checks.

At any given time, there are about 20 percent and above vacancies, for various reasons like state police officers being unwilling to come on deputation etc.

As per the CBI manual, the superintendent and above have specified powers for registration of cases, and the CBI follows it scrupulously. An officer of a particular rank can register an economic offence of a particular magnitude at his / her level, and to go above that, they need the permission of the rank above them. Similar guidelines on the basis of ranks exist for registering offences under Prevention of Corruption Act. There are legal advisers at each stage of investigation, and a follow-up of cases in courts is quite good.

However, on occasion, the quality of its investigation and prosecution have been criticised by the courts as in the 2G spectrum allocation case recently. At other times, the courts have come down heavily on the CBI’s decisions, with the Supreme Court terming it as ‘caged parrot’ and ‘His master’s voice’. The internal vigilance wing has often nabbed some of its corrupt officers and prosecutors, proving that the CBI has its own black sheep. The pendency of cases however is mounting, despite special courts designated to handle CBI cases. These are issues of serious concern.


An Efficient Organisation

In most cases, the investigation is of high standard, and the investigating officers are encouraged to pursue the collection of scientific evidence. The conviction rate is higher in CBI cases, as the investigating officers do not have to handle other departments like law and order / security/ VIP duties. They devote their full time to investigation. When I joined the Bureau in 1999, I was impressed by the depth of discussion and focus on investigation.

I also found that the investigating officers took much longer to complete an investigation – some in the hope that more cases would not come their way if they go slow on the earlier ones! But by and large, the work culture and environment had been highly professional. During the '90s, the Bureau was given more resources, and the millennium saw special allowances – 25 percent of the pay for ranks up to the Superintendent of Police, and 15 percent, for ranks above it.

The Bureau, like any other large-scale organisation, has internal issues such as, an alarming number of vacancies, rivalry between directly recruited officers of the CBI and those on deputation from other organisations, etc.

The officers also feel that they do not have the facilities and amenities of local police investigation units. Still the conviction rate (of above 65 percent), is one of the best in the country. The more recently created National Investigation Agency (NIA) will take decades to come up to the benchmark set by the CBI.

For the Service of the People

In most of the cases, the investigators work independently, but in some cases, there are pressures from different quarters. Most officers are able to withstand these pressures, as documentation is very strong within the CBI. If you are able to justify your stand on paper, it is difficult to be overruled. However, some officers do find cunning ways to bypass these, including taking legal opinion in their favour. Courts intervene occasionally and initiate direct supervision with clear direction not to transfer/shift the investigating officers and the supervisors – as was the case with the investigation of the 2G spectrum allocation case, and coal scam cases.

The game of checks-and-balances thus continues.

With a professional work culture, a strong internal vigilance wing, and an internationally-acclaimed training set-up, the Central Bureau of Investigation holds its head high – more often than not. On the whole, having worked in the CBI, I can safely vouch for its professionalism, and fervently hope that the current director and special director resolve their differences for a higher cause, that is, the ethos of their organisation. Both officers being from the Indian Police Service, should stand up for the ‘service of the people’ and NOT for ‘the service of the party in power’.

(This opinion piece was first published on 19.07.18 by The Quint and has been republished in the aftermath of CBI Director Alok Verma’s resignation.)

(The writer retired as the Director General Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD). This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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