21 - 02 - 2019

CBI caught in crossfire between political foes

THE country is witnessing a sad and unprecedented confrontation between the West Bengal Government and the CBI. Never before has the investigating agency faced such open bellicosity from the state police or the government

. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has accused the CBI of transgressing its jurisdiction and seeking to arrest a senior officer of the state without a warrant or intimation to her government. She has accused the Centre, particularly Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, of indulging in vendetta politics.

CBI sources point out that the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scam cases are being monitored by the Supreme Court. The investigation is being done by the CBI in pursuance of court directions. Hence, seeking the consent of the state government for carrying out the investigation within the jurisdiction of the state does not arise.

There were reports in sections of the Press that fearing imminent arrest, Commissioner of Police Rajeev Kumar went absconding. This disinformation has been contradicted by the Chief Minister and the Additional Commissioner of Police, who, during a press conference convened at the state police headquarters, called it ‘bogus and motivated’.

The CBI approached the Supreme Court to direct the state government and the Commissioner of Police not to impede the investigation, ensure the safety of CBI officers, and order the Commissioner of Police to hand over to the agency necessary papers and documents.

The CBI vs Kolkata police imbroglio is fraught with disturbing consequences. In a federal structure, different agencies of the state and Central governments must act in cohesion to serve the people and achieve the desired result. The purpose is defeated if they work at cross purposes. This applies more so in the case of the CBI, whose officers in the field constantly require help of the police for protection and field operations. From my long years of service in the police, I can say that normally the police extend all help to the CBI; without police assistance and cooperation, the CBI’s work in the field would become very difficult, if not hazardous. Hence, it is not understood what prompted the CBI authorities to despatch a team of about 15 officers to the house of the Commissioner of Police to question him on a Sunday evening. Perhaps they might have had a plan to arrest him, if necessary. The investigation into the scams has been dragging on for years. Hence, the tearing hurry was uncalled for. The new CBI Director has just assumed charge, and it should have been left to him to take a call in this sensitive case. Acting Director Nageswara Rao acted hastily and perhaps exceeded his brief, giving rise to the suspicion that it was a command performance. In this case, possibly, the warrant for search and questioning was not obtained from the court. The acting Director perhaps tried to be more loyal than the king, and dragged the CBI into an avoidable controversy.

It has been reported by the media that the Commissioner of Police had obtained an order from the Kolkata High Court, giving him leave from joining the CBI investigation till February 12, and forbidding coercive action till then. If there had been such an order, it could have been shown by the Commissioner to the CBI team and the latter sent back without any fuss.

The gravamen of the CBI charges is that the Commissioner of Police was not appearing before the investigators for questioning and destroying evidence. 

The Supreme Court has now ordered that Kumar would cooperate with the investigation into the Saradha chit fund scam case. The apex court has also said that Kumar will appear before the CBI at Shillong (Meghalaya), and that the central agency cannot arrest him. The CBI had alleged that investigating officers of the West Bengal Police, working under Kumar, had handed over crucial evidence to the accused persons. Local authorities attempted to destroy evidence prior to the transfer of the case to the CBI by the Supreme Court. The court has also directed issuance of notices to the DGP, Chief Secretary and the Commissioner of Police on the contempt petition.

The unsavoury episode shows how the CBI is caught in the crossfire between rival political parties. The timing of the CBI operation was perhaps intended to expose corruption under Mamata Banerjee’s rule, and she, in turn, used it for scoring brownie points against the BJP-led NDA government. The parties in power have been using the CBI for their partisan ends. 

One does not know how far the new Director will be able to assert himself, rebuff the political masters, and make the CBI a neutral professional organisation. It will be possible to build a powerful and effective anti-corruption agency only if there is a strong political will. The CBI must have an Act, laying down its duties and functions. The Act should seek to insulate the CBI from extraneous pressures and make it apolitical and independent. Another alternative is to have a parliamentary committee to oversee the functioning of the CBI on the pattern of the Australian model. The apex court called CBI a ‘caged parrot’ and wanted to liberate it. The liberation is yet to come.

 

Sankar Sen
Former director, National Police Academy, Hyderabad