Tuesday, May 07, 2013

An independent CBI?

There is renewed clamour for an independent CBI in the wake of the Coalgate investigations and the government's attempts to vet reports submitted by the CBI to the Supreme Court. Every political party thinks the CBI is a handmaiden of the government of the day but days nothing to alter the situation when it is in power.

Many activists would like the CBI to be free from political supervision. Then, we will have professionals in the CBI bravely investigating the corrupt and prosecuting them. What a pathetic delusion ! Politicians are not a special breed in society. They are drawn from the same genetic pool as lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants, bureaucrats, policemen, corporate executives and academics. True, politics is a game at which one needs ruthlessness in order to succeed but the same is true of most other professions. Only, the stakes in politics may be higher.

Make the CBI independent and you will have a set of privileged officers with frightening powers and amenable to nobody in the executive. Absolute power, we know, corrupts absolutely.  The police force is apt to misuse its powers even when under the supervision of civilian and political authority.Think of what might be when it is totally freed from such supervision.

Prescriptions, such as those for an omnipotent Lok Pal or an independent CBI, fail to answer the crucial question: who will these bodies be accountable to? Parliament and political parties are accountable to the people. The bureaucracy and the police must be accountable to parliament and the political authority. Perhaps, it does not suffice to have political oversight, it must be supplemented by parliamentary oversight and independent external audits by a panel of eminent persons. But this is not the same as saying that agencies such as the CBI should be independent of the political authority.

Harish Khare, writing in the Hindu, underlines this point and also warns against judicial intervention in such matters:
Given the context of this political culture of suspicion and accusation, it would be tempting to judicially “liberate” the CBI. This can only produce an institutional disequilibrium of the most unhelpful kind. Any democratic society should be very suspicious of a policeman, however competent a professional he may be, with powers to determine political life and death. As it is, we have yet to evolve a code of conduct for an ever enlarging plethora of regulators and independent commissions. Everyone goes about hypocritically believing that we have found the magic formula to make honest appointments of honest individuals to such “institutions.” 

Once an appointment has been wangled, then it is entirely open to an incumbent to take a maximum or a minimal view of his or her brief. We are becoming wise to another aberration: the potential — and, in a few cases, the reality — of a corporate house suborning these so-called “independent” authorities. Before we succumb once again to the allurement of installing unelected gods as our saviours, let us just remember that it is easy to proclaim and grab “independence” but it is much more difficult a task to produce the requisite institutional culture, anchored in balance, fairness and rectitude. That balance can be produced and enforced only by democratic processes of accountability. This balance can neither be produced nor imposed by a court.

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