IPS officers need dedication to enforce law and order effectively in a large country such as India.
The steel frame of the country is slowly losing its sheen as story after story reveals the murky world of India’s babudom. The latest before the public is the dirty linen being washed in public by two top IPS officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s premier investigation agency. The All India Services played a crucial role for British India in setting up an administrative structure for efficient governance and uniting the country as a nation. Soon after Independence, the civil services played a very vital role in integrating the country on a uniform pattern, and its work during the initial years of Independence led Sardar Patel to call India’s civil services, the “steel frame” of India’s Government machinery. Watching the CBI top bosses quarrel in open, against this backdrop, is depressing.
Among all the civil services in the country, the work profile of IPS officers requires total devotion for enforcing law and order in a country of India’s size and dimension. They have to work beyond designated office hours; they are on duty round-the-clock, eating into their family time. The CBI is an organisation which has gained immense faith of the citizens of the country for its expertise in detecting crime and exposing graft.
The latest developments within the CBI, however, are the culmination of a larger malaise of deterioration of the value system of institutional integrity. This is more often than not seen in other areas of administration too. In any society, lack of a sense of justice and a preponderance of lawlessness is the greatest terror the people in power can enforce on citizens. The Indian public has a short memory and a great tolerance for wrongdoers and, because of this, we fail to generate public opinion against bad governance and fritter our energy on petty issues.
A proto-CBI could be said to have been created in 1946. It was the successor organisation to the Special Police Establishment (SPE) which was set up in 1941 to investigate cases of bribery and corruption in transactions with the War & Supply Department of India during World War II. After the end of the war, the need for a Central Government agency to investigate cases of bribery and corruption by Central Government employees was felt.
The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was, therefore, brought into force in 1946. The CBI derives powers from this Act. The reputation and image of the investigation agency has been severely dented recently. This systemic degradation of institutions has been a gradual phenomenon in this country, mainly due to political interference and the misuse of bureaucracy and police against political opponents; the CBI is no exception to this.
When such things happen, the corrupt gets closer to such elements and destroy the fairness and integrity of the institution. It is also ironical that Alok Verma is the third CBI director after AP Singh and Ranjit Sinha to be investigated for alleged corruption with the infamous meat trader and suspected smuggler Moin Qureshi hogging the limelight in two of the cases.
The CBI has been routinely used against the political opponents by the ruling party at the Centre. It was hoped that the scenario would change after the misuse was challenged and a consequent Supreme Court decision in the Vineet Narain Case of December 1997. The order laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI and ordered that the CBI be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an independent governmental agency free from executive interference.
In the current brawl, between Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana, the Supreme Court on October 26 , 2018, delivered one of its finest judgements in recent months and saved the reputation of the CBI which the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had failed to do.
The apex court has given two weeks time to the CVC to inquire into the allegations against Verma under the eyes of a retired Supreme Court Justice AK Patnaik. It has also restrained the interim Director from taking policy decisions. Let us examine this episode from the point of view of propriety and what is wrong in the governance template and who is responsible for it.
The country had been witnessing an agonising war between these two officers for past few months as media was full of news of both trading charges against each other. The CVC and the Cabinet Secretary were aware of this internecine war. In any organisation, the hallmark of a good leader is to control things within the organisation. In this particular case, the CBI director proved to be a poor leader. He should have gone beyond his ego and taken up matter with higher authorities if he found Asthana doing wrong.
Similarly, CVC and Cabinet Secretary proved their incompetence in not handling the matter in a timely fashion and allowed things to go out of hand despite knowing the facts. In such a situation, no Prime Minister can run the country if people responsible for running important institutions have a lackadaisical attitude in dealing with such matters. The Prime Minister’s Office should have acted firmly at the first hint of differences and the CVC should have taken a stand. Not doing so has eroded the image of the Government while the Opposition is busy politicising the issue.
It is, therefore, necessary for the Government to analyse in detail how far the institutional reforms after the Supreme Court decision in December 1997 have been able to improve the functioning of the CBI. And it will be worth finding out the rate of conviction of cases probed by CBI after this decision. This decision of the Court took away the power of appointing and sacking the CBI director from the Executive. In hindsight, it seems that it has emboldened incumbents to be arrogant; otherwise, how would a former CBI director have the courage to meet an accused in his residence?
As for appointments, it is well-known that most of the appointments in the Central Government have since long been controlled by a Delhi coterie which, irrespective of the party in power, can mar the reputation of any good and honest officer and promote officers who are smart in networking.
It would be prudent to say the job of the Executive should be done by the Executive, provided the methodology of short-listing candidates is fair and beyond reproach. The CBI is a prestigious organisation and its former glory should be salvaged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must stem the systemic rot by going for drastic reforms and he must review if the Vineet Narain judgement has been of use and how far it was implemented for maintaining the institutional integrity of the CBI. Politicians of all hues, however, must stop meddling in this matter.
Writer: VK Bahuguna
Courtesy: The Pioneer