‘The current challenge is to ascertain how to make CBI functional as an efficient and impartial investigative agency fully motivated and guided by the objectives of service to the public at large, upholding the constitutional rights and liberty of the people, and capable of performing in increasingly complex time,’ Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said at the DP Kohli Memorial Lecture. 

Of the issues ailing the working of a complex institution such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, the following seem to be imminent concerns:

Legal ambiguity: Constitutional and legal ambiguity surrounding federal institutions is not entirely unheard of, but lack of clearly demarcated spheres of functioning and overlapping areas of influence severely comprises both the integrity and efficacy of the institution.

For instance, under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, for conduct or continuance of investigation into offences committed with the territory of a state, consent of the state is crucial.

Given vested interests or bureaucratic lethargy, such consent is often either denied or delayed, severely compromising the investigation.

Additionally, a patchwork of legislations governing the functioning of CBI adversely affects inter-institutional coordination, both horizontally and vertically.

The result of multiplicity of institutions results is an aggressive competition for scarce resources and inter-institutional ‘turf war’.

These set of issues arise in large measure from lack of a comprehensive statue protecting the agency’s autonomy.

Weak human resource: An underlying weakness of public institutions is the lack of adequately qualified and competent workforce. The gap is both qualitative and quantitative. CBI is no exception.

Such gaps exist not merely on the operational end but also on the command side with 15 per cent posts in executive ranks, 28.37 per cent in law officers and 56.17 per cent in technical officer lying vacant. This results in overburdening of work that not only reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency personnel but also induce psychological distress.

Potential ramifications may compromise both the quality of investigations and the policy design, formulation and implementation efforts.

Lack of adequate investment: Inadequate investment in personnel, training, equipment or other support structures, adversely hampers professional discharge of duties. High quality research and training are crucial for maintaining an effective modern police force imparting it with the operational ability to meaningfully respond to ever changing societal needs.

Accountability: In the past few decades massive strides have been made in imbibing traits of transparency and accountability into public life and institutions. Public institutions have progressively opened their working to external scrutiny.

Such action also seems to have been articulated from a desire on the part of institutions to improve visibility of their deliberations and working with invested stakeholders. Of equal importance is the need to maintain morale of the force by enforcing stringent internal accountability.

Political and administrative interference: Why is it that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, CBI does a good job?

A reverse situation led to the celebrated case of Vineet Narain vs UOI, wherein the SC expressing concern at the state of affairs, laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force.

However, given that the superintendence and control of the agency continues to, in large measure, lie with the executive by virtue of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever present.

I have no doubt that there is more than enough strength within the organisation to deal with any such situation.

Each of the above noted concerns carries the potential of adversely denting the autonomy of the police force as a whole, the faith reposed in the working of the agency and the integrity of its functioning. This turn has severe ramifications on the ability of the agency to play a constructive and positive role within the justice dispensation system.

Supreme Court and the CBI

It has been a constant judicial endeavour to preserve, maintain and further the integrity, and independence of CBI. Time and again the Supreme Court has utilised its constitutional authority under Article 142 read with Articles 14, 32, 141 and 144 to do complete justice, so that the agency can perform its role as the premier investigating and prosecuting agency without any fear or favour, and in the best public interest.

It all began with a Public Interest Litigation necessitated by continuing failure of successive governments to initiate reforms that had been recommended by numerous committees aimed at instilling autonomy, accountability, and professionalism into the working of the agency.

Acknowledging various shortcomings in the functioning of the police force as a whole and also the CBI, the court issued extensive guidelines to secure its functioning from excessive political interference.

The court on numerous occasions reiterated that the commitment, devotion and accountability of the police force had to be only to the Rule of Law.

Current challenge; Roadmap for the future

It is indeed heartening to see that many of the recommendations offered by the Judiciary to reform the functioning of CBI have been accepted as is by the central government.

Other initiatives having a positive bearing on the functioning of CBI, such as the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, and the recent operationalisation of the Lokpal, are indeed promising.

However, given the entrenched afflictions, the current challenge is to ascertain how to make CBI functional as an efficient and impartial investigative agency fully motivated and guided by the objectives of service to the public at large, upholding the constitutional rights and liberty of the people, and capable of performing in increasingly complex time.

Thus, the roadmap for future must be forward looking and innovative, and focus on critical areas such as technological scaling up and organisational autonomy.

Edited excerpts from the DP Kohli Memorial lecture organised by the CBI delivered by CJI Ranjan Gogoi in New Delhi, August 12.

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