The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is surrounded by many myths, including the common perception that it is only a central agency tasked with crime investigation. Since its investigations enjoy higher credibility for its fairness and professionalism, this leads to a clamor for a CBI investigation whenever the state police agencies are perceived as failing or faltering. Nothing can be further from the truth. Since its inception, the primary function of the agency was, and still largely remains, combating corruption in public places and misuse of public money meant for the development and growth of the country.
At an early stage of World War II, the then Government of India under the British Raj realized that the huge amount of expenditures had given a chance to the anti-social elements, both in ranks of officials and nonofficials, to engage in bribery and corruption at the cost of the public and the Government of India. In 1941, it passed an executive order setting up the Special Police Establishment (SPE) under a DIG in the then Department of War with a mandate to investigate cases of bribery and corruption with which the War and Supply Department was concerned.
By the end of 1942, it felt the need to broaden the activities of the SPE and issued an ordinance in 1943, to constitute a Special Police Force (SPF), vesting it with the powers of look into corruption cases with other departments of the Central Government committed anywhere in British India.
As the need for a central agency to investigate cases of bribery and corruption was felt even after the War, the Government promulgated the Delhi Special Police Establishment Ordinance of 1946 and subsequently converted it into an Act.
The agency acquired its present name only in 1963 through a Government resolution passed on the recommendation of the Santhanam committee, which recommended an overhaul of the existing apparatus to combat the menace of corruption.
The agency acquired its present name only in 1963 through a Government resolution passed on the recommendation of the Santhanam committee, which recommended an overhaul of the existing apparatus
Over the years, its charter was expanded to not only investigate cases of bribery against Central Government employees but also serious fiscal crimes, including hawala transactions, trans-border offenses having national security ramifications, anti-terrorism cases, etc., thus transgressing into the State List under the Constitution.
Like all law enforcement agencies, the CBI has had its share of bouquets from some and brickbats from others. However, despite occasional controversies, it is widely respected for the high caliber and professionalism of its investigations. It has also been able to maintain a much more impressive track record of securing convictions, as compared to the state anti-corruption bureaus which perform a similar function in respect of the State Government employees. It is beyond dispute that the CBI has become a benchmark in crime investigation. However, its misfortune is that it is treated merely as a police organization.
“Like all police forces in the country, it has been open and amenable to undesirable illegitimate influences from its political masters, “says Prakash Singh, former DG, and an IPS officer, who has been campaigning for police reforms in the Supreme Court for years.
The investigating agency needs a dedicated and separate law that can provide it with unequivocal statutory backing. “A strong public movement to compel the political leadership to pass an Act in Parliament to make the CBI independent, in my view, is the only way ahead,” says Anil Chowdhry, former Secretary (internal security), in the Union Home Ministry.
In fact, a 2013 judgment of the Gauhati High Court has questioned the CBI’s legal status itself. It has held the establishment of the CBI through a Government resolution in 1963 as unconstitutional. This judgment was stayed by the Supreme Court.
To address these issues, the CBI first needs a dedicated and separate law that can provide it with unequivocal statutory backing. While the primary purpose of this law would be to resolve concerns regarding the CBI’s legal status, it should help in dealing with other contentious issues as well.