To stop 2G, Coalgate and Ishrat Jahan cases from taking the Bofors route of fake and clumsy investigations, the Supreme Court should intervene in curbing shameless (mis) use of investigation and intelligence agencies for political gains. The CBI autonomy question should permeate all aspects revealed in the politicised cases.
With the motto—Industry, Impartiality and Integrity, there is an expectation of the highest standard in efficiency and integrity from the CBI. When the debate on autonomy and transparency is on, the investigation process in critical cases of national importance namely, 2G, Coalgate and Ishrat Jahan encounter, has put many question marks on the vary raison d’être and functioning of the CBI. In the last few weeks all these cases have taken twists and turns in the Supreme Court hearings and outside it. In all these cases, one thing that is clearly underscored is the politicisation of investigation and intelligence agencies and as a corollary, dwindling faith of the common masses in the whole process itself.
In the high profile 2G spectrum allocation case, the CBI is finding it difficult to pursue the case stating reason that the agency is “filling its lacunae” in seeking some of the documents from the government departments. At the same time, Kanimozhi, a key accused in the 2G scam has comfortably sailed through the election of her second term in the Rajya Sabha with Congress support. It looks a case of political realignment between the DMK and Congress, where Congress has blocked CBI investigation on 2G and the DMK has set aside the issue of alleged human rights’ violations of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The injured party is CBI and its credibility.
In the Coalgate case, CBI has taken the surprising step of taking off the investigation into the allocation of coal bocks during 2006-09, the period when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was holding the portfolio. Despite the strict vigil and reprimand from the apex court, the government dared to alter the status report and team investigating the scam. Fortunately, the Court has directed the agency not to seek any government sanction in respect of court-monitored or court-directed investigation. As the PMO and Ministry of Home Affairs has direct control over the CBI, the possibility of suspect criminals monitoring the investigation still remains.
The confusing positions taken by various government agencies in the Ishrat jahan case is most shocking and disheartening. When CBI is claiming that the encounter was fake and the so-called victims were not terrorists, startling revelations by R V S Mani, former Under-Secretary in Home Ministry, has claimed that Satish Verma, until recently a part of the CBI-SIT probe team pressurised him to sign a statement saying that the Home Ministry’s first affidavit in the Ishrat case was drafted by two IB officers. Immediate claims came from some NIA officers through media that 26/11 suspect David Headley has not mentioned Ishrat Jahan in his “official” confession. Former Home Secretary G K Pillai, who earlier claimed that Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist, retracted from the statement and gave her the benefit of doubt. Due to the government mishandling of agencies and the tussle with CBI, IB has stopped giving specific inputs about terror activities to different branches of government. Regrettably, the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has refused to comment in the name of secrecy and international obligations. When there are allegations of tampering with the NIA inputs and national security is at stake, the silence of Home Minister is irresponsible and anti-national.
While addressing the CBI autonomy issue, besides the questions of tenure, post-retirement benefits and financial autonomy, the Supreme Court should also set the procedural aspects of investigations right. The structural autonomy with reference to appointment of the CBI Director through a collegium of three members is a welcome proposition. But the core issue of ‘intention of the masters to free the caged parrot’ is under serious doubt. Therefore, there is need for more structural and financial autonomy. There is also a need for vigilant ‘code of conduct’ for the investigating officers. Investigation processes need to be delinked from political interventions to restore objectivity and integrity. Otherwise, there will always be a fear of witch-hunting against the Opposition and silent deaths of cases ‘like Bofors’ favouring the ruling party by the investigating agencies.