Redrawing lineshttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/redrawing-lines/

Redrawing lines

PM’s plainspeaking on corruption,CBI autonomy will be judged against his government’s record.

PM’s plainspeaking on corruption,CBI autonomy will be judged against his government’s record.

In its 50th year,the CBI is confronting existential questions and the prime minister’s address at its conference on combating corruption and crime flagged some of the issues that have loomed large in the UPA’s second term. Arguments about the agency’s autonomy and the proper distance it must keep from the executive have filled the political discussion. Despite being India’s premier investigative agency,the CBI has had a history of political pliability,and of being used instrumentally by successive governments. Now,the ongoing coal block allocation investigations have brought it a new order of attention,as the courts strongly — and rightly — urged for it to be freed from political interference. In this context,the prime minister drew a crucial distinction between operational autonomy and top-level oversight and administrative supervision by the executive that applies to any such public body. Like any other police organisation meant to prevent,detect and prosecute offences,the CBI is answerable to the executive. That said,operational autonomy — a condition where nobody outside the organisation can influence any aspect of the investigation — is easier said than done. And on that count,the executive of the day has much to prove.

The PM’s unusually hard-hitting speech also pointed to the imperative to redraw the lines on another front. Taking on the tendency of investigating agencies to stray into matters of administrative decision-making,he emphasised that policymaking is complex and layered,and likely to become more so,and that police agencies should refrain from leaping to large guesses about wrongdoing,without an understanding of the rationale behind these decisions. He pointed out that it was crucial not to target honest officials,or mistake their honest judgement calls for criminality — a situation that could potentially paralyse decision-making and crush any initiative in the system,and directly affect growth.

The entire tenure of UPA 2 has been overshadowed by a sense of anxiety and agitation about corruption. Its decisions — those that appeared dubious and even those where it might have arguably asked for the benefit of the doubt — have been raked up and scrutinised by the investigating agencies,courts and the auditor. The PM is right about the need to restore perspective,even though he and his team have failed to credibly make the argument when it mattered.

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