There is very little by way of honour for the CBI that is worth defending. Such is the depth of scorn the country’s so-called premier investigative agency has sunk to in recent times. Yet the Centre says it has had to intervene to prevent further reputational damage to what was once considered as the élite crime fighting force. The government clarification came while it defended the marching orders given to the Bureau’s top two bosses, who on account of their ‘cat fights’ brought disrepute not only to themselves but to the entire spectrum of constitutional institutions, of which CBI is just one. The government’s top law officer Attorney General KC Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the fight between CBI chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana had become a matter of public debate, causing bewilderment all around.
Verma had petitioned the Supreme Court against the government order transferring him, insisting that he could have been removed only on the recommendation of a high-powered panel that includes the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. His tenure was to end only in January.
Ruling parties at the Centre have always maintained a firm grip over investigating agencies and used them as tools of subjugation against political opponents by launching investigations. Cases are bought on and off the CBI radar, depending on the requirements of the ruling party and in the process the agency lost its honour, integrity and independence, forcing the courts to call it a ‘caged parrot’. The abuse has become so all-pervading that the agency became a butt of ridicule and lost even the semblance of respectability. Matters came to such a pass that the top cops have been challenging one another for being part of rackets providing safe passage to saboteurs.
This is far from what the statute makers had in mind when they made the CBI chief’s status beyond the reach of the executive to either do its bidding or face its axe. The change of circumstances even forced the court to once ask what could happen if the CBI director is caught red-handed, accepting illegal gratification. But such questions have since moved away from the realm of hypothesis to a zone of reality, where the court has had to ask the Central Vigilance Commission to probe the incumbent CBI director.
The best that can probably be done to the CBI is to disband it in its entirety so that at least the integrity of the ordinary crime busting mechanism can somewhat be assumed. If the premier investigative agency itself has no credibility, it would be too much for people to expect from the routine set-up. But with CBI off their heads and minds, it may still be possible for them to trust the ordinary police.