For more than a year, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been publicly riven with the conflict between the director, Alok Verma, and special director, Rakesh Asthana. The tussle began with the director opposing the latter’s promotion by pointing to his alleged involvement in a corruption case being investigated by the agency. The uneasy relationship between Verma and Asthana took another ugly turn in July with the two top officials not agreeing over who should represent the CBI when the agency’s director was on leave. The discord over what was ostensibly a procedural matter revealed the CBI to be a deeply divided house. Now, with the country’s premier investigation agency filing an FIR against its own special director, who, in turn, has accused the organisation’s head of impropriety in more than a dozen cases, the faultlines have only become deeper. The CBI has hit a new low, even by its none-too-glorious standards.
The wrangle between the director and his deputy seems to have embroiled other officers of the CBI as well. These internecine disputes have a bearing on several important cases, and raise serious doubts over the agency’s capacity to take them to an efficient and just conclusion. The Centre has reportedly left it to the Central Vigilance Commission, which supervises the CBI’s functioning, to act on the spate of complaints from the warring camps. But the premier investigating agency’s problems go deeper. Over the years, disturbing questions have been raised over its functioning, irrespective of the government holding office at the Centre. In recent years, the agency has come in for adverse notice in the 2G and coal scams. And in fact, the Verma-Asthana face-off is not the first time that the CBI’s top brass has come under the scanner for professional impropriety. Former director, Ranjit Sinha, for instance, came under cloud in both the 2G and coal scams. Excoriating the agency’s investigation of the coal scam, the Supreme Court had, in 2013, described it as a “caged parrot”. The apex court had also noted that the agency had regularly flouted its 1995 directive to insulate investigative agencies from political influence. Nevertheless, the court had reposed faith in the CBI’s impartiality to probe its former director. But if this vote of confidence was a shot at redemption for the CBI, the latest tussle between Verma and Asthana shows that the agency has learnt no lessons.
The Supreme Court should take serious note of this failure. The chief justice — along with the prime minister and the leader of Opposition — is a member of the panel that appoints the CBI director. The CBI needs to sets its house in order, but its past record does not inspire confidence. It’s time for the court to step in.