A completely independent investigating agency is inconceivable under the present circumstances. Despite tremendous public pressure, no government in power is willing to allow a full functioning autonomy to the Central Bureau of Investigation for fear that it may itself find at the receiving end of its investigating zeal. Besides, abusing and misusing the CBI for partisan political ends has become second nature of the party in power. Innumerable instances exist when the agency was pressed into service to tame a recalcitrant critic or to enlist his support to tide over a crisis of numbers in Parliament. From Mayawati to Mulayam Singh Yadav, everyone seems to fall in line once the CBI is set upon them. However, occasionally, the Apex Court has rather bravely demanded that the agency exercise a degree of autonomy in its functioning from the day-to-day interference of the government in power. And with that objective in view, it has sought to institutionalise necessary changes, the foremost among them being the appointment of its head. The recommendations of a Group of Ministers in this regard, however, do not go very far. The government would still have its way in the selection of the CBI director if the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India are presented with a short panel of names drawn by it and it alone. Once appointed, the director would still be at the mercy of the government for major administrative and financial inputs for running the agency. As it is, the CBI has also become a major parking lot for officers who do not want to leave the capital. A separate CBI cadre, which is not dependent on the discretion of the government for posting to the agency would be a step forward. Again, the proposal that a panel of retired judges should monitor its investigations so that these are free from external factors is hardly likely to improve the functioning of the agency. If the agency can pull wool over the eyes of higher courts with impunity even when they are supervising key cases, there is no guarantee it will not try and misdirect investigations in favour of the ruling dispensation, despite the constitution of a panel of retired judges to oversee its work. Besides, retired judges very often have their own axe to grind. Instead, the supervision of the agency by the proposed Lokpal who will enjoy full functioning autonomy from the government is a better way to rid the CBI of excessive political interference. The selection of the director of prosecution is no less important. Very often the CBI behaves in a most arbitrary manner in deciding which cases are prosecutable and which not. Depending on the political predilections of the government, for instance, Mayawati one day has a tenable case under the corruption law and the next day she does not. This gross abuse of the CBI can be minimised, if not eliminated altogether, only if the CBI has an upright director and an equally independent director of prosecution. Even the appointment of lawyers to represent the CBI in various courts is vitiated by partisan considerations. It is notable that even at the level of the Apex Court, the CBI lawyers have often misrepresented facts to protect the government. Had word not leaked that the CBI report to the Apex Court in the Coalgate scam was sought to be changed by the then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and by senior PMO officials, there was every chance that the CBI would have produced the vitiated report before the highest court.
It was then that the court had lamented that the CBI had become “ a caged parrot speaking the master’s voice….” And had gone on to describe it “as a sordid saga.” The SC bench had ordered the government to file an affidavit on July 10, enlisting concrete steps to “free the caged parrot.” The recommendations of the GoM, of course, do not go so far as to even allow basic, day-to-day autonomy to the CBI. The right way would be to place it under the supervision of the proposed Lokpal, at least in all politically sensitive investigations. All governments have tremendous powers of patronage, which are often misused to influence its working of the CBI, especially in politically sensitive cases. Freeing it from government tentacles will remain a huge challenge unless the very culture of governance undergoes a sea-change.