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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The poor parrot

Controversy around CBI director’s visitors should not be used to stifle police autonomy.

Written by Abhinav Kumar |
Updated: September 12, 2014 8:41:14 am
IPS officers in the CBI are as competent to investigate these crimes as IAS officers manning key policymaking positions are to commit them. IPS officers in the CBI are as competent to investigate these crimes as IAS officers manning key policymaking positions are to commit them.

By: Abhinav Kumar

Satyananda Mishra, a bureaucrat who ascended the dizzy heights of the proverbial greasy pole to become secretary, department of personnel and training, and chief information commissioner, recently raised serious and important questions about the competence and accountability of the CBI (‘This parrot can’t be set free’, IE, September 9). Prior to that, speaking at a Civil Service Day function last year, he mentioned the auctioning of senior positions in government to the highest bidder. Obviously, no one bothered to ask him what he had done to either advance the course of virtue in the CBI or help prevent the vice he was railing against. Of course, I suppose he was merely a helpless bureaucrat, duty bound to follow the diktats of the political executive, proper or otherwise.

With such conscientious bureaucrats at the helm of affairs, surely our much-delayed tryst with destiny is just around the corner. If only the pesky media, hysterical civil society, activist judiciary, corrupt politicians and bumbling cops could be kept at bay, the guardians of the Indian republic, the omniscient and omnicompetent IAS, would have delivered us to the promised land. Or better still, delivered the promised land to us.

There is no doubt that recent reports in the media centring around a visitors’ diary supposedly maintained at the residence of the CBI director, along with a PIL filed in the Supreme Court, have caused a great deal of controversy and called the credibility of our premier investigating agency into question. Predictably, the powerful vested interests whom the agency has been called upon to investigate in recent times have begun a collective chorus: We told you so. Mishra appears to be their vanguard. He has taken this issue as a peg to resuscitate old arguments that were advanced to stifle police autonomy and professionalism, and presented them as sparkling new insights.

This is not an attempt to defend or attack the conduct of the CBI chief. The matter is before the Supreme Court and I am sure it will take all factors related to procedure and propriety into account before pronouncing its verdict. But to use this episode to make a case to curtail the persistent need for greater professional and administrative autonomy for the CBI is to throw out the baby with the bath water. It is a fiction and a fantasy that all right-thinking citizens must actively resist. An efficient, autonomous and transparent CBI is absolutely essential to fight the menace of corruption and restore public faith in the rule of law, a foundational principle of not just our Constitution but of any society with democratic aspirations.

The bias with which Mishra approaches the issue is apparent with the liberty he takes with facts. He claims that no recruitment has been done at the DSP level “for more than two decades”. Funny, I remember training with direct DSPs of the CBI in 1997. For a former secretary, DoPT, to be unaware of simple facts such as these shows both ignorance and disdain of basic information related to the CBI. He then goes on to question the competence of IPS officers to supervise investigations involving complex financial crimes. One wonders what Mishra did as secretary, DoPT, to bridge this competence-deficit in the CBI. Given that, until recently, IPS officers were denied an equal opportunity to go for courses that would enhance their skills in areas relevant to them, Mishra’s observations are hypocritical, to say the least. On a lighter note, IPS officers in the CBI are as competent to investigate these crimes as IAS officers manning key policymaking positions are to commit them. Mishra’s comparison of the CBI with the Central police organisations, far from proving his point, demolishes it most convincingly. A director general rank officer cannot even buy new vehicles to replace old ones without clearance from the government. So what autonomy is Mishra talking about?

There is a subtle form of snobbery at play here. How can a mere police officer investigate the high and mighty of this land? How dare they? They should know their place. Fortunately, the people of India have begun to see through this charade. This is by no means an attempt to defend the CBI director. That issue is sub judice. However, improprieties alleged against an individual cannot be allowed to derail the much-needed process of reform that the CBI in particular and policing in general urgently require. The prescriptions offered by Mishra are far from a cure. They are worse than the disease.

The writer is a serving IPS officer. Views are personal

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