Was the CBI’s raid on Delhi government principal secretary Rajendra Kumar an excuse for getting into chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s files? Is there a political witch-hunt against him or as Trinamool Congress claims an “undeclared emergency”? Or, is the central government right in claiming, as finance minister Arun Jaitley told Parliament, that the CBI raid “has nothing to do with Kejriwal and his tenure as Delhi chief minister”.
Other central government ministers have demanded an apology and accused Kejriwal of politicising the CBI raids on his government’s Babu No. 1, even as he has hit back with charges of selective bias. Over-reaction or political vendetta — whichever side of the argument you may be on — the Kejriwal-central government stand-off is unprecedented in terms of the charges being hurled and the language being used.
Parliament is logjammed again and this political face-off over the CBI has once again put India’s apex investigative agency in the spotlight. Irrespective of who is right, the fact is that the CBI is, by its own admission, not an independent agency.
It is a “part of government,” as then-CBI director Ranjit Sinha told the Supreme Courtin 2013. It has always been a “caged parrot”, to use the Supreme Court’s evocative language. Even if CBI does the right thing, it is easy to tar it with charges of political bias for this reason.
When an investigative agency is perceived by the political class and citizens as the handmaiden of government, it is easy to tar it with the brush of bias. Just yesterday, for example, Pavan Varma of the JD (U) accused the government on television of appointing officers with questionable records in the CBI at investigative levels. Whether this is true or not, perception is crucial for the credibility of any agency.
Politics aside, the time has come for making the CBI a truly autonomous body, like the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General. The American FBI, for example, is overseen by several entities, including Congress, which scrutinises it’s budgets and lead investigations. The CBI too can be truly independent only if it is made accountable primarily to Parliament, and de-linked from government.
The CBI, which traces its history to a war-time police department set up to check corruption in 1941, was transferred to the then Home Department under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act in 1946 and took its present form in 1963, though aGovernment of India resolution.
The way it has evolved over the years meant that, as Anil Chowdhry, former secretary (internal security), once pointed out, “it would be utterly naïve to believe that the CBI is autonomous and free from controls of the government… Even the bold attempt of the Supreme Court bench headed by the late and highly respected Justice J S Verma to make the CBI free from extraneous pressures of the executive in the famous Vineet Narain case (1996) has not succeeded.”
Reforming the CBI’s oversight mechanism, along with much-needed wider police reforms, is a must for good governance.