Caged parrot gets a beating from SC, no face to show
Given the CBI’s track record in getting convictions and the frequent U-turns it has taken in important disproportionate assets cases, even allowing the executive to dictate changes to it in the Coalgate case—that’s when the Supreme Court first said India’s premier investigative agency was nothing but a ‘caged parrot’—it is not surprising the CBI has the reputation it has. But even this reputation got a bashing in recent months with records being leaked of how the CBI chief was hobnobbing with those he was supposed to be investigating—these worthies were routinely visiting Ranjit Sinha at his residence. If that wasn’t bad enough, Sinha was accused of transferring out of the top officer in charge of the 2G investigation, and the Supreme Court had to intervene to have the officer reinstated. The last nail in the coffin, in a manner of speaking, is the Supreme Court saying the allegations against the CBI chief were ‘prima facie credible’ and asking him ‘not to interfere’ with the investigation and trial of the 2G spectrum case. The Court even said it didn’t want to elaborate on the subject ‘to protect the faith in the institution and the reputation of the director of the CBI’.
While it is incredible that Sinha should continue to brazen it out – but then he shrugged off the ‘caged parrot’ remark last year in May – it also speaks volumes for the manner in which the CBI chief is chosen and the almost routine interference of the executive in the agency’s day-to-day functioning. It has to be a great coincidence that while Sinha was trying to scuttle the 2G probe and later trial, the political class was pooh-poohing the CAG report on the basis of which the case was started—recall the zero-loss press conference by the then telecom minister. The Supreme Court’s remarks against Sinha would, under normal circumstances, cast a doubt over the investigations themselves, but fortunately the CAG report made public many vital facts and, early on in the probe, the Supreme Court took charge of event—in 2011 itself, the Court directed that UU Lalit be appointed Special Prosecutor, and Lalit has had some public brushes with the CBI in the case.
The 2G case will, at the end of the day, proceed at the pace which the Supreme Court directs, but the allegations against Sinha, and his brazening them out, cast a very large shadow over the CBI, its autonomy and accountability. If the Supreme Court has to supervise each investigation, it is a sorry commentary on what was supposed to be an independent watchdog. As for the executive, as Coalgate and other cases have shown, it is not shy of interfering in important cases. The Modi government’s big challenge will be restoring the CBI’s reputation, even what’s left of it.