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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The cage within

Deepening faultlines within the CBI pose serious questions about its ability to take sensitive cases to their just conclusion.

By: Editorial |
Updated: July 19, 2018 12:08:08 am
Supreme Court, CBI, CBI chief Alok Verma, Rakesh Asthana, CVC, CBI director, indian investigative agency, A dispute over the matter of who would represent the agency when its director is on leave has bared several faultlines in the agency.

In January, the Supreme Court asked the CBI to investigate its former head Ranjit Sinha’s role in the coal scam. That case is among the more than 50 cases — many of which involve top politicians and corporates — being investigated by the country’s premier investigative agency. But if the apex court’s vote of confidence was a shot at redemption for an agency whose impartiality has been questioned time and again, the CBI does not seem to have taken the cue. An investigation by this paper reveals that the CBI, once described by the SC as a caged parrot, is a deeply divided house on some of the most sensitive cases it is handling. A dispute over the matter of who would represent the agency when its director is on leave has bared several faultlines in the agency. On Monday, this paper reported that the CBI had told the Central Vigilance Commission that its second-most senior official, Special Director Rakesh Asthana, does not have the mandate to deputise for Director Alok Verma.

The issue at hand is much more serious than discord over procedural matters between the director and his deputy. Verma had opposed the appointment of Asthana, in the first place, arguing that the officer was being investigated for impropriety in a case investigated by the agency. The Supreme Court, however, upheld Asthana’s promotion to the post of Special Director. Subsequently, not only did the CBI continue its investigation against Asthana but the wrangle developed several sub-plots involving officers of the agency. These internecine disputes have a bearing on cases such as those involving the AgustaWestland deal, INX Media, IRCTC hotels and Vijay Mallya, and raise serious doubts over the premier investigating agency’s capacity to take them to an efficient and just conclusion.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are at loggerheads over the course of action in some long-pending cases of economic offences. In the Air Asia case, for example, the CBI has registered an FIR while the ED believes that the case is on weak grounds. The two are also involved in an ugly spat over the alleged impropriety by a senior officer of the directorate. It is nobody’s case that there cannot be differences of opinion between two investigating agencies, and within them. However, there seems to be no evidence of a resolution which requires building channels of communication between agencies and creating institutional avenues within them. The cases being handled by the CBI and ED pertain to sensitive matters and both agencies will be under the scanner. They should guard against letting their differences degenerate into institutional weakness.

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