‘There is strange cohabitation between different political forces and CBI cases are used for various collateral purposes’

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Gopal Subramanium, Former Solicitor General,
Gopal Subramanium, Former Solicitor General, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Q: What do you think is the way to fix the CBI? Is the status quo maintainable or do we need a change? 
The CBI was initially intended to deal with crimes of corruption. So when the first director of the CBI was appointed or later when his successors were appointed they were supposed to be police officers of such integrity that they could not be influenced. There has been a tradition in the initial stages that we’ll appoint such directors who will not be amenable to any kind of extraneous influence. So if you look at many of the appointments, which were made like C V Narsimhan or Vijay Ramarao, they were appointments, which were made on the basis of their ability to stand up and undertake professional investigations. Gradually, the CBI’s ambit of investigations grew larger. Terrorist cases, cases which involve inter-state ramifications, cases which involved money movements, money transfers, including bank frauds, all these different kinds of complex cases started coming to the CBI. So their whole range became very wide. Now when it becomes very wide, what happens is that there can be serious compromises in the quality of the investigation. The first setback was the enormously large number of cases. Clearly, the CBI was getting over burdened. But, this was not effectively articulated by any director because a director felt that the more cases were referred to the CBI it was a feather in his cap, a feather in the organisation’s cap. It was an honour for the CBI to receive references from court; it showed a certain level of neutrality and impartiality. So, the first setback was the widening of areas of investigation; the second was limited manpower. The third setback was the very idea of a Preliminary Enquiry (PE). PE is necessary in some cases, because you cannot act rashly. You have to have some basis before you take action. And CBI sometimes also became involved in granting vigilance clearance. That’s another area into which they got enmeshed. So you have the distinctiveness of the organisation but at the same time the distinctiveness of the organisation to stand out as an all-time independent organisation was already getting diluted by these four factors that I mentioned. This is one facet of the story. Now, notwithstanding that I’d say there are cases where the investigation undertaken by the CBI has been outstanding. I’m saying that as a professional lawyer. There are cases where young officers of the CBI—they are not even IPS officers—they are non-IPS, direct recruit officers into the CBI who have worked day and night under the most adverse circumstances and have solved cases by standing up against the high and mighty in the country. They have stood up against all kinds of temptations. And they have protected the image of the organisation. I will give one example. There was this minister called Amarmani Tripathi who was involved in that murder case. But if it were not for the CBI and if it was not for the investigating officer and his integrity, anything could have happened in that case. He simply took charge of the matter—notwithstanding that officer’s terrible personal situation, his wife was battling with cancer –he saw the case through to conviction. There are some very good individual officers in the CBI. This is one important facet you have to understand. The fifth factor, which is something of a recent origin is that the CBI officers are also conscious that they have enormous power and if someone were to decide that the power would not be exercised exactly with the best intentions, then I’m afraid there can also be a dilution in the moral standards. The sixth setback has been the inability to firmly take a view whether a case is made out or not. Many times I’ve noticed they have been unable to form a very clear view on whether a case is made out or not. They err on the side of caution, which is that they lay the case and allow the court to actually quash it. That’s a fairly ineffective prosecution. So one of the symbols of ineffective prosecution is that you put together a case, you don’t apply your mind rather let the court deal with it because you don’t have the courage and conviction to deal with it yourself. Let me come to the seventh setback. I found that in many of the leading cases there’s no continuity of investigation. It does become difficult for a case to be taken to its logical conclusion. The CBI is unable to have time-bound programmes to get its cases prosecuted. Its resources—which are available to the CBI—are completely disproportionate to the work they have to do. If you see the vehicles in which their officers travel and the pitiful conditions in which they pursue court proceedings and keep records, you would realize that they really require a massive infrastructural uplift. In my view they need high quality secretaries, they need high-quality managerial officers within the organisation, as a part of the CBI to manage time, to plan interrogations. And it all needs to be modernised. In my view the CBI needs a complete facelift.

Q: So these are broad structural problems, which may apply to, say the Enforcement Directorate or Directorate of Revenue Intelligence or even the state police because these problems are universal.
The second case I should tell you about is the Satyam case. I had the opportunity to look at the investigation done by the CBI. I think, in my view, it was one of the most outstanding pieces of investigation. It was again headed by an officer of impeccable integrity named Laxmi Narayanam. He was unflappable. In my view, you have to mark out such people and preserve them as the cannons of the future. The man in Amarmani Tripathi’s case I spoke about is Raja Balaji. He also investigated the Mecca Masjid blast case. He is an absolute professional fellow. What is important is you must have professional people.

Q: The problem is not that there are not well-intentioned hardworking officers in the CBI…
But they don’t have role models. If you want to do this kind of work, which involves personal sacrifices and where you need to undertake a major process of commitment which may involve the high and the mighty you have to have role models in your senior officers. There’s a feudalistic tendency of treating investigating officers as subordinate officers. I’ve seen adequate evidence of it. And I think it’s very wrong. This is one of the defects of police investigation in this country that people still exercise feudal control because of the past structure.

Q: Many CBI directors have gone on record that there’s always meddling and political interferences in politically sensitive cases. And that’s the biggest problem with the CBI. Be it the Bofors scam case, be it the Babri Masjid demolition case; either the charge sheet is not filed or the investigation is not taken to its logical conclusion. Or even if the charge sheet is filed the case just fizzles out. This is the reason why people are saying that take the CBI out of government control. 
There are two aspects of this matter. One is if there’s an administrative control by any ministry over the CBI, it has the deleterious impact of the administrative control and it cannot be denied. The CBI is being looked after like a department of the government, by government. Do you think the government servants look at CBI as an independent body? They look at it as a department of the Central government. So there has to be a certain degree of distancing of CBI from governmental administrative control, I think that’s the first step. Even for day-today expenses, say for example, even for buying three extra jeeps, the CBI requires a prior sanction. Have you actually travelled with a CBI investigating officer in a vehicle? I have and I can tell you that it’s pitiful. Nobody will be ready to work for the CBI if you know the kind of conditions in which they travel. I saw in a place like Aurangabad, they were borrowing old condemned jeeps of local police and using it. So first, they need to be treated with respect. They need to be totally modernised. They need to have proper equipments, machinery, computer, scanning, high-level equipments, wireless, etc. They have nothing. They were not even able to get a Blackberry sanctioned for their own officers. And I don’t see why they should not have a Blackberry. Why they should not get the latest communication devices? Now what happens is when your purse strings are with a ministry, and you need clearances from the government for everything that you do, I’m afraid that the organisation is then seen as an extension of the government. So you must understand, in public perception, CBI is seen as a part of the Central government, which is entirely unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for the CBI officials for themselves as it corrodes on their self-worth. That self-worth and self-esteem, if it is chipped away by administrative control, by somebody in government, it can be disastrous.

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