CBI has no autonomy

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

The Karnataka Lokayukta, who had resigned on the ground of the State Government’s alleged indifference to corruption and the fight against it only to withdraw his resignation later, has observed that the CBI has “a poor record of convictions”. At present, the Lokayukta is seized of the inquiry into the alleged illegal mining scam which has been going on for decades under successive Governments in the State. He felt that if the mining scam was to be taken away from him and given to some other agency, and the objectives of the agency were the same as his, he would have no objection. But if it was done for collateral reasons, he would certainly not agree.

Commenting on the Opposition’s demand for a CBI inquiry, he said that it could have been motivated by collateral reasons. He added that the CBI “has closed many cases which ought to have ended in conviction… People are aware of those cases.” Even if one has been a judge in the highest court of the country, it does not automatically imply that one is fully aware of the ground rules and regulations governing the CBI and other related facts.

His contention about the conviction record is best refuted by a communication sent by the director of CBI to the Government in April 2009 which says that while the national conviction rate in trial cases is below 43 per cent and has even touched single digit in some States, the CBI’s conviction rate, at 70 per cent, is one of the highest in the world.

There is a mistaken impression that the CBI is an autonomous or independent body. It has become fashionable to bash the CBI for any reason, whether valid or otherwise. The CBI cannot either investigate a case or function in any State without the consent of the State Government.

The CBI cannot draw a roadmap for its own functioning as it is not a constitutional body like the Election Commission of India or the judiciary. The harsh reality is that arresting those responsible for committing the crimes being investigated by the CBI, including corruption, is the last priority of any Government, notwithstanding the proclamations of the high and mighty regarding zero tolerance towards corruption.

The plain truth is that no Government, irrespective of the party in power, wants an independent investigating agency or, for that matter, any independent institution which may not be willing to toe its line. The Government has more than one way to disable any independent functioning. It is not only through checks and balances but through delays and manipulations exercised in different ways that it can do so.

An eminent jurist says, “On the Jagdish Tytler drama and the trauma accompanying it, the more important question is the general one, of whether or not it isn’t time the CBI is made institutionally independent of pressures and pulls from within the Government and without. I believe we must have in place an Independent Bureau of Investigation instead. But this can only be done through a law expressly enacted by the Parliament.”

At present, the total strength of the CBI’s staff is 5,900 with 30 per cent vacancies at any given time. In Delhi alone, there are a total of 1,389 CBI cases pending in courts of which pendency in the six courts of special judges is at 927. Of these, 171 cases have been pending in courts for more than eight years, 51 cases for more than 15 years and 39 cases are awaiting closure for more than 20 years. Additionally, chargesheets have not been framed in 119 cases dealt with by the CBI, as per a Delhi Cabinet note.

Coming to the overall pendency figures, of the total number of 1,557 cases under investigation in CBI in 2006, only 157 were over two years old while of the total number of 6,414 cases pending trial in the courts, 2,300 were over eight years old and 198 were over 20 years old.

According to the annual report for 2007-08 of the Delhi High Court, 3,32,141 cases came up for trial and each case received a hearing of five minutes — four minutes and 55 seconds are the precise figures. Each minute of the court’s time cost an astounding Rs 6,327 which boils down to Rs 19,93,180 for every working day.

All listed cases cost the court an average of Rs 1,300, even if many were adjourned immediately. The report, released by the then Chief Justice, shows that Delhi High Court disposed of 56,612 cases, including 47,017 that were filed in the same year. The High Court worked with 32 judges, much below its sanctioned strength of 48.

The then Chief Justice added that at the present rate of disposal, it would take 466 years for the High Court to clear its backlog of cases. The report shows that the rate of disposal of criminal cases in 2007-08 can be worked out to be 0.5 case per day. Launching the new litigation policy in July this year, the Union Law Minister said, “There are over two crore cases pending in Indian courts, 70 per cent of them involving the Government as either petitioner or respondent.” Explaining the spirit behind the move, the Minister stated that there were several instances of frivolous petitions being pursued by the Government, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer and burden on the judicial system.

Surely, for the collapse of the criminal justice system the CBI is not responsible. Any effort made to promote integrity and bring about a corruption-free public life is welcome. But unfortunately, the credibility of politicians in India is at its lowest ebb.

Whether it is with theUnion Government or the State Governments, the first priority is political survival — and pulling down others. In some cases, the Governors, who themselves are far from being models of probity, have joined issue with parties in power in the States. In some cases, Governors have refused to accord sanction for the prosecution of corrupt politicians against whom the courts have ordered an investigation by the CBI.

The solution is to grant constitutional status to the CBI and give the wherewithal to the judiciary, including manpower and equipment, to ensure that no case remains pending beyond six months or a year.

This writer has had the opportunity to interact with two Prime Ministers on the issue. While one of them was willing but had no political support to do this, the other objected to it, wondering why he should give his powers away. What the leaders and those in power have to do is incredibly simple. Whether or not they have the will to do the same is, however, another matter.