The tawdry battle being played out in the Supreme Court between the top two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) reflects how deeply corrupt and politicised India’s premier investigative agency has become over decades of malign interference in its operations by successive governments.
Whatever the outcome of the Central Vigilance Commission’s findings on the dispute between CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, systemic reform must follow. No government has had the courage to turn the CBI into an independent investigative agency. It is far too valuable a political tool.
The Supreme Court will examine the CVC’s findings next week. Supervised by former Supreme Court Justice AK Patnaik, the CVC’s conclusions may tread a cautious path. Whether or not the apex court allows Verma to resume work as director at the scheduled hearing on November 12, the real issues confronting the CBI will remain untouched: a culture of institutionalised corruption, rampant nepotism and deep politicisation
In September 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the states and the Centre to implement a seven-point directive to reform the entire policing system in India. This was a root and branch directive. Since most CBI officers are drawn from the IPS, the Supreme Court’s directive would have been the first step towards cleaning up the CBI from top to bottom.
The states and the Centre, 12 years later, have largely ignored the Supreme Court’s order. Has the apex court moved to hold them in contempt? Sadly, no. Former Director-General of Police (DGP) Prakash Singh has led the fight to implement the Supreme Court’s 2006 order. Despite sporadic hearings on his petition, the apex court has shown extraordinary leniency to allow contempt of its 12-year-old order on police reforms to go unpunished.
As he examines the CVC’s charges against Verma, CJI Ranjan Gogoi will be well aware of the seven-directive order that his predecessors have failed to enforce. A summary would jog the memory of the CJI-led bench:
Directive One: Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to: (i) Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police; (ii) Lay down broad policy guidelines; and (iii) Evaluate the performance of the state police.
Directive Two: Ensure that the DGP is appointed through a merit-based, transparent process to secure a minimum tenure of two years.
Directive Three: Ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including superintendents of police in-charge of a district and station house officers in-charge of a police station) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years.
Directive Four: Separate the investigation and law and order functions of the police.
Directive Five: Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of deputy superintendent of police and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of deputy superintendent of police.
Directive Six: Set up a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at state level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of deputy superintendent of police in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt, or rape in police custody and at district levels to inquire into public complaints against police personnel below the rank of deputy superintendent of police in cases of serious misconduct.
Directive Seven: Set up a National Security Commission (NSC) at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.
Politicians regard the police not as law enforcers but as junior partners in fixing political opponents and abetting corruption. The spoils are shared from the lowly havaldar to the very top of the food chain, both in the police force and the political establishment.
That is why politicians across the ideological spectrum have no interest in implementing the seven Supreme Court directives on reforming the country’s corroded law enforcement infrastructure.
The power to transfer officers is a lethal weapon in the armoury of politicians and it is wielded ruthlessly. Criminals and even terrorists often escape because of the politician-police nexus underpinned by hawala funding. National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, an IPS officer himself, stars in an apocryphal story of how in the 1980s the arrest of an underworld don, now living in Pakistan, by a high-powered police team led by Doval was subverted by this nexus.
The CBI operates under the colonial-era Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. Efforts to make the CBI an autonomous body with statutory authority like SEBI, TRAI and IRDA have been brushed aside by successive governments.
The solution clearly lies in the implementation of the Supreme Court’s detailed seven-point directive. The apex court has been negligent in not enforcing its own order. Many of the CBI’s problems, including its status as a caged parrot during the UPA government and a subverted organisation during the current NDA government, would not have arisen had the Supreme Court-mandated police reforms been enforced.
When the Supreme Court examines the CVC’s findings, it should also exhume its 2006 order, wilfully flouted by the Centre and the states, that could transform law enforcement in India from the humble havaldar to the entitled CBI director.