Independent probe in Coal Scam is impossible until the prime accused continues to occupy the top post in the government
Having reprimanded by the Supreme Court over its frequent interferences in the functioning of Central Bureau of Investigation, the Congress-led UPA Government might have constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to suggest a roadmap for functional autonomy to the probe agency, the fact is none in the UPA is serious to free the ‘parrot’ from the ‘cage’. The experts feel the entire exercise to grant autonomy to the agency is nothing but an eye wash. Neither the top people in the agency want autonomy nor does the Congress want it at all. The CBI director Ranjit Sinha’s recent statement toeing the line of his masters in the UPA, and also the misuse of CBI giving clean chit to Bansal as well as framing Rajasthan BJP leader Gulab Chand Kataria, are fresh evidences, of it.
Undoubtedly, the image of the CBI has touched a rock bottom. The Vineet Narayan case was the first judicial attempt by the Supreme Court to strengthen the CBI. Even though the Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines the Government over the last 17 years found out methods of by-passing those guidelines. The entire movement for the enactment of a Lokpal and a liberated CBI has not yet succeeded. At every stage the Government has been slow and reluctant. The CBI gets belittled when it bends before political pressure and conducts a pliable investigation. On the contrary when the court discovered this pathetic plight of the CBI, its investigation had to be monitored.
The Group of Ministers headed by Union Minister for Finance P Chidambaram also has newly-appointed Law Minister Kapil Sibal, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, I&B Minister Manish Tewari and Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy. It has to report some progress by July 10 to convince the apex court that it is serious about unshackling the CBI. Fact is that the GoM has sufficient material to make the concrete recommendations and it does not need to begin from scratch. It has before it a number of suggestions that had been thrown up in the course of discussions over the Lokpal Bill in Parliament and outside. In fact, the Select Committee of Parliament, which had discussed the Lokpal Bill has before it several ideas that can provide a good degree of autonomy to the investigation agency. While the Government had then not bothered to incorporate many of them in the final version of the Bill, it should have a re-look at them now. Given that the issue of functional freedom to the CBI has been dragging on for years now and the time has come for comprehensive changes, the ruling UPA cannot get away with piecemeal tinkering. The draft law that the GoM prepares must take into account the opinions expressed by senior Opposition leaders and also the experts. But the big question is whether the GoM is really serious in making concrete recommendations.
There are suggestions that a separate directorate of prosecution should be created within the CBI to work independent of the investigative wing of the agency. To ensure that the prosecution director is not beholden to his political masters, he must be appointed through a Collegium that comprises the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and the country’s Lokpal. At the very least, this selection process will weed out elements that would otherwise be selected by the Government for dubious reasons. A fixed term for the director of prosecution will ensure that he does not function under the Damocles sword of being given the marching orders for not following the executive’s dictates. To further insulate the director of prosecution (and indeed even the Director of CBI) from falling prey to political largesse, it would be a good idea to codify that neither director is appointed to Government-related posts after his retirement.
There is another important question, how can the CBI reach out to the masterminds of the coal scam until Manmohan Singh continues to occupy the office of Prime Minister. “It is impractical and impossible to expect CBI to reach out to the masterminds of the scam with Manmohan Singh occupying the office of the Prime Minister”, said BJP vice president Balbir Punj. To a question why BJP was not bringing a no-confidence motion against the UPA, Punj claimed that his party was not doing it at the moment since the ‘floor management with respect to Samajwadi Party and BSP was done by the CBI.’
The security experts feel that if we wish to make the CBI really a free parrot it should be given constitutional status with its own budget. The plethora of sanctions and permissions needed to prosecute the corrupt also need to be removed. But the Government so far is only moving one step forward and two steps backward.