More often the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has received flak for not conducting its investigations thoroughly, especially in political and high profile cases. Bofors, Warren Anderson extradition, Purulia arms drop, fodder scam, Sohrabuddin killing, Aarushi murder and Nithari episode are some of the cases which the nation’s premier investigating agency has failed to crack. Only the 2G Spectrum scam case seems to be heading in the right direction, that too after the Supreme Court’s intervention.
In an exclusive interview with Biplob Ghosal of Zeenews.com, Joginder Singh, former CBI director, gives a detailed view of how political bosses control the investigating process and what needs to be done to improve the image of the CBI.
Biplob: You have repeatedly said that the Central Bureau of Investigation is controlled by the central government and used for political gains. Could you explain how the government controls the agency and its investigations?
Singh: It (CBI) is a wing of the government and doesn`t enjoy autonomous status. They tell you, do this or that. I will give one example - when the Law Ministry sent the additional solicitor general of India to London to inform that there is no case made out against (Italian businessman Ottavio) Quattrochhi. It’s the Law Ministry which gives advice to the CBI and represents the agency in courts. In fact, the CBI has bosses in the form of DoP (Department of Personnel), CVC (Central Vigilance Commission), the Law Ministry and the Home Ministry for its different aspects of work.
They have passed a law, the Central Vigilance Commission Act, which says that if the CBI wants to initiate an inquiry against a joint secretary and above level officer, it would require permission from the government. This is apart from the sanction the agency needs when the investigation is over and the permission of the government to chargesheet the accused. The government would take years to give the sanction and by that time the person would retire. It is only recently that the Supreme Court has laid down that the government has to give sanction or final order in a maximum of four months.
Biplob: How can political interference be stopped and what should be done to improve the CBI’s image?
Singh: The Supreme Court has said more than once that corruption cannot be a part of anybody’s duty. (meaning it has nearly become a part of people’s job and needs to weeded out). In 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee`s government had passed a law which says, before starting an inquiry against a general secretary and above level officer you need to take permission from the government. Also, a final sanction is required for prosecuting an official of Cabinet Secretary rank right up to the PM.
They should give the CBI a Constitutional status like the one enjoyed by the Election Commission and the Supreme Court. However, the agency should not become too independent also and there should be a parliamentary committee to oversee its working.
Biplob: The CBI has often been criticised, especially when it has failed to crack a political case. How should it respond to such criticism?
Singh: They cannot do anything and according to rules, the CBI officials cannot criticise the government. Since I am retired I can criticise it. It is a violation of conduct rules if you criticise the government in fabric. They put words in the mouth of Attorney General and ask him to take a particular stand like, whether a particular case is good enough or not. For example, like in the cases against Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. It is the Attorney General who decides what has to be interpreted and told to the courts. The CBI as a wing has to go by the opinion of the highest law official. A CBI director cannot even decide which advocate to engage and how much fees should be paid to him. It is the decision of the Law Ministry and of the legal advisor of CBI director, who is an official of the Law Ministry. He naturally has to secure his future in the Law Ministry.
Biplob: There has been a demand to bring the CBI under the purview of Lokpal. What’s your say on this?
Singh: Lokpal will be a flop show. What will a Lokpal do? It will just be an advisory body, and cannot convict anybody. Poor Anna doesn’t know that none of his team members know how to fight corruption. Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have brought a law to confiscate the property of the corrupt, the central government hasn`t even done that.
Lokpal will just be an advisory body and will again refer cases and then the same thing will happen as with the CBI cases, which are pending for the last 20-30 years in courts. This needs to be corrected. The government must increase the number of judges and courts. They had said they would set up 50 fast track courts to get rid of the backlog, but only six of them are functional.
Biplob: The government has maintained that the CBI should be kept out of RTI purview? Do you agree?
Singh: When a chargesheet is filed one can be given the documents, but during investigations it’s a strict no. Media is doing the work of RTI; whether there is RTI or not it is getting all the information. But if information is given to the opposition, they will use it for their own gains, which would result in halting of investigations. Let the case go to the court and anybody can then apply and get the documents.
Biplob: But some cases don’t reach courts...
Singh: See the delay is not always on the part of the CBI. Look at the Batla House encounter case which happened in 2008 and charges were framed after four years. The CBI doesn’t have control on courts. The speed at which our courts work…but they are also not at fault for the delay as there is a huge shortage of courts as well as number of judges in our country. More courts need to be set up and new judges be appointed, but the government is not doing much to fill this gap. At present there are 153 MPs in Parliament who have mentioned in affidavits that cases are pending against them. No political party, whether it’s the Congress or the BJP, wants to give you independence of functioning.
Biplob: What do you think of the selection procedure in the organisation?
Singh: Very few CBI directors have got a post retirement job. Only bow the trend has started and one or two officers have been appointed with government agencies post retirement. No director has been associated with any government agency because somewhere or the other they have to take a line and they have been taking it. There have been no allegations of corruption against any CBI directors. So the system is all right, but the government should give the agency constitutional status.
Biplob: Your message to CBI officials.
Singh: They have been working fairly well and have strengthened the CBI. My message is more for the government than for the CBI as it is working fine. The CBI keeps a watch on its own officials and prosecutes them when they are caught in corruption cases. No other organisation does the same in the country. So my message is, keep up the good work and see that bad acts are kept out so that you can do best for your country.