Why we need a law to free CBI from government's grip

GP Joshi
GP JoshiJul 11, 2017 | 11:06

Why we need a law to free CBI from government's grip

Two recent raids by the CBI on the properties of prominent politicians have received wide publicity. In one case, the CBI raided 14 residential premises owned by former Union finance minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram. In the other case, the raids were conducted on the properties of Lalu Prasad and his family members.

Action taken by the CBI elicited similar sharp reactions from the affected parties and their supporters. It was done to silence the voices that were critical of the government and it was motivated by political considerations. Chidambaram said: "The government’s aim is to silence my voice and stop me from writing..."


Lalu Prasad said that the entire exercise was a political vendetta aimed at intimidating and preventing him from organising the opposition parties against the BJP. Many political parties have supported Prasad's assertion.

The law itself leaves scope for the guilty to escape unharmed by supplying provisions that lend them impunity and can always be manipulated. Photo: Reuters

Politicians accused in criminal cases often come out with another reaction. “Let the law take its own course” they fearlessly and condescendingly proclaim from the rooftops.

They say so because they know that the law, in many cases, fails to take its proper course, primarily due to three reasons. Firstly, the justice system is cumbersome, dilatory and deeply flawed. Secondly, anti-corruption agencies do not function effectively, particularly against the rich and the politically influential. Thirdly, the law itself leaves scope for the guilty to escape unharmed by supplying provisions that lend them impunity and can always be manipulated.

Every time the CBI has acted against a prominent politician from the opposition, it has invariably been followed by a chorus of noises against the government. The idea is not so much to attack the CBI as to declare the government as the guilty party, thereby simultaneously proclaiming oneself the innocent victim of vendetta politics. This happened in the UPA days and it is happening now. The question is, why has this type of response become a standard practice, and how does it impact the image of the premier investigating agency of the country?


No accused in a criminal case ordinarily admits to his or her involvement in the crime. They all claim to be innocent. Therefore, the public should treat such statements as the wild rants of distressed politicians, but it does not always work that way. Over a period of time, the CBI’s image has been dented, partly due to its own performance and due to the repeated, standard response that the investigating agency's action in such cases is motivated by political considerations.

Though the public does not hold the politicians in this country in high esteem, this type of criticism does plant a seed of doubt in the people's minds that the actions of the CBI against government’s opponents are not always straight and honest.

There is a perception that the CBI, like police forces in the country, is influenced in its work by the party in power. Crooked politicians take advantage of this public perception.

Even in cases where the action taken against them is perfectly legitimate and as per the law, they invariably pose as victims of political vendetta and witch-hunting.

It is easy and convenient to attack the CBI by calling it a handmaiden of the party in power. Becoming a victim of political revenge fetches them greater sympathy than other arguments.


Regrettably, the public perception about the CBI becoming highly politicised is supported by facts.

Chidambaram said: "The government’s aim is to silence my voice and stop me from writing..." Photo: PTI

In some cases against ruling party politicians, the CBI has shown either reluctance to take up the investigation or when forced to do so, adopted dilatory tactics. It has also shown uncharacteristic zeal in pursuing cases against politicians in the Opposition and has sometimes been brazen in shifting its stand depending on the accused’s equation with the party in power.

The CBI’s dealings with cases involving Mayawati and Mulayam Singh during UPA’s rule often invited scathing criticism from the Supreme Court on this ground.

The CBI is a central police organisation and it is the central government’s responsibility to make it professionally strong and impartial. Sadly, the Centre has not done much in this direction. On few occasions, the central government has, in fact, issued orders scuttling the powers of the CBI, making the security agency dependent on the government as it attempts to conduct its operations.

The CBI figures in the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.

Considering the importance that the framers of the Constitution had attached to the organisation, it is rather strange, indeed ironical, that its working is still governed by an outdated Act of Second World War vintage, called the Delhi Police Establishment Act, which was enacted in 1946 for a limited purpose.

If the CBI has to function as an impartial and effective organisation, certain measures are essential.

One of these is to enact a law that defines the status, functions and powers of the CBI and its relationship with the government, does not allow anyone to enjoy impunity and establishes effective institutional arrangements to insulate the organisation against illegitimate pressures and influences from outside.

The Supreme Court has, on occasion, made attempts to provide the CBI the insulation it requires, but unfortunately failed. Let the law do it now.

Last updated: July 11, 2017 | 11:06
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