Updated: May 3, 2016 12:01:29 am
The Central Bureau of Investigation strikes an awkward balance. It has become the default agency for investigating the most complex cases of wrongdoing, especially those in which corruption distorts the plot. At the same time, it is widely distrusted as the “caged parrot”, which will not raise the alarm without a political green signal. And from the point of view of the citizen, the idea of seeking out corruption at the urging of political authority seems faintly amusing. CBI investigators writing an anonymous letter to their own agency, reporting that officials have been on the take in sensitive cases relating to the coal scam, would have been amusing, too, were it not altogether sobering, as it brings into doubt the legitimacy of the premier anti-corruption watchdog in India.
The CBI publicly acknowledged its lack of autonomy long ago, from the tenure of Joginder Singh and B.R. Lall, who headed it. However, that is only part of the legitimacy problem besetting the premier agency. Corruption is, in fact, a more problematic issue, since the CBI is the weapon of choice at the disposal of the government in curbing corruption. The anonymous whistleblower has listed classic instances of corruption, such as a case changing direction abruptly when the director of the company under scrutiny refused to pay a bribe. Particularly damaging is the claim that investigators who stepped out of line were menaced with the threat of disciplinary proceedings and encouraged to commit perjury.
The onus is now on the CBI to clear the air. Director Anil Sinha, to whom the complaint was addressed, has taken cognisance of the matter since two dozen cases of wrongful process were listed. That is a positive step, but were the contents of the letter, which was received in early March, disclosed to the Supreme Court with due despatch? The CBI should have shared the letter’s concerns immediately, since its investigation of the coal scam is proceeding under the watchful gaze of the apex court. Now, since very particular allegations have been made, the agency is in a position to re-establish its legitimacy by probing them. It should proceed in public view. It is important for the CBI to be seen to be unbiased and incorruptible. The premier investigative agency must regain its legitimacy, which has been in question for years. To turn the corner, it must publicly assert its independence from both financial and political manipulation.
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