A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the CBI to tread cautiously in policy matters,Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday came down heavily on investigating agencies and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for overstepping their limits by attempting to convert bona fide executive decisions into either crimes or abuse of authority.
Addressing the golden jubilee function of the CBI,he said unfortunately,there are a number of cases where investigating agencies and other authorities like CAG have overstepped their limits.
Chidambaram cautioned the agency to respect the line that divides policy-making and policing. Referring to the role of public servants in financial crimes,he also said the investigating agency must confine itself to the question of whether there has been a violation of the laid down rule of conduct.
It is not the business of the investigating agency to lay down a rule of conduct nor is it the business of the investigating agency to presume a rule of conduct. Even where a rule has been prescribed,if there is a policy behind that rule,it is not the business of the investigating agency to question the wisdom of the policy or to suggest a different policy that would be better in the view of the investigating agency, Chidambaram said.
He said that as long as there are reasons given in support of a decision,such reasons should ordinarily rule out any criminal state of mind. He said the investigating agency should tread carefully before it reaches the conclusion that a business or commercial decision taken amounts to a crime.
The CAG had recently questioned the policies adopted by the government in the allocation of spectrum and coal block allocations both the issues are being probed by CBI.
Referring to the caged parrot term given to CBI,Chidambaram said there are several myths about the agency,ranging from caged bird to Congress Bureau of Investigation. None of the descriptions is correct or even well-meaning. Some myths are carefully fostered and propagated in order to serve immediate or narrow self-interest, he said.
Chidambaram noted that sometimes the CBI itself pretends to be a helpless victim when it pleads for more powers and greater autonomy. Hardly anyone seems to notice the contradiction when the same person pleads in favour of more powers to CBI and also rails against the alleged excesses of the CBI. Hardly anyone pauses to ask how could the CBI do the bidding of a political party that has not been in government during 12 out of the last 25 years, he said.
Chidambaram,who headed the Group of Ministers on CBIs autonomy,said the government would give functional autonomy to it,but the agency would be governed by the general rules of the executive government.
We have conceded all the powers that will give you functional autonomy along with investigative autonomy. We have done our best to give you that functional autonomy…But that autonomous powers must be exercised as part of executive government, he said.
I want you to remember that you are part of executive… There is only one executive government. We cannot create more branches of executive government. We cannot create sub-branches of executive government. There is a judiciary,there is an executive,there is a legislature. CBI is part of executive government and therefore CBI is as much bound by the general principles which apply to all wings of executive government, he said.
The Finance Minister said before pressing charges in matters of financial crimes,investigators must cross the threshold that there was criminal intent behind the decision under question. On the issue of financial crimes in changing economic scenario,Chidambaram said safety is the pre-requisite for an open or market economy,which is the highway to prosperity.
Providing safety is the job of the government. A sound criminal justice system must ensure safety of the financial system. It must protect the financial system against theft,fraud,forgery,mis-selling,money laundering,hacking,cyber attacks etc. Registration and investigation of offences are the starting point of a sound criminal justice system. Hence the need for a first rate investigating agency, he said.
He said CBI must recruit bankers,accountants,lawyers,insurers,fund managers and securities experts,train them in the substantive and procedural laws,and turn them into first rate investigators. He also said it is important that an investigating agency identifies all the individuals who collaborated in the crime and brings to justice every one of them.