CJI pulls up CBI for failing to meet standards of judicial scrutiny

File photo of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi
Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has pulled up the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for its failure to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny in many high-profile and politically sensitive cases.

“The CBI is one of the few investigative agencies that have managed to carve out for itself a special place .... Unfortunately, attention is more often than not drawn to failure than success of any public institution. True, in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases the agency has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny,” Justice Gogoi said while delivering the D P Kohli Memorial Lecture on the role of the police in strengthening justice delivery.

Kohli was founder-director of the CBI. 

He said such instances reflected systemic issues and indicated a mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational designs, working culture, and governing politics. The CJI questioned why the CBI did a good job in cases where there were no political overtones. It was the Supreme Court that had laid down the guidelines for the director of the CBI in the Vineet Narain case.

He further said the CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Further, to address an increasing incidence of inter-state crimes, “public order” could be included in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. 

The CJI said the public perception of the CBI must be of the highest order. 

“Given the intense scrutiny that working of the CBI is being subjected to, public perception of the agency must be of the highest degree. Not long ago, an investigation from CBI was all that was asked for by those seeking to secure justice. Such was the trust people reposed in this institution. Any gap between public perception and the quality of institutional performance would adversely impact the governance of the nation, which we can ill afford,” he noted.

The CJI highlighted at least five issues — legal ambiguity, weak human resources, lack of adequate investment, accountability, and political interference — that were ailing the premier institution.

The CJI said the gap that existed in the CBI was worrying. Citing official figures, he said 15 per cent of the posts in executive ranks and 28 per cent of those in the technical unit of the agency were vacant. Fifty per cent of the posts in the legal department of the CBI are vacant, too, resulting in extra work for those who are there, according to him.

Talking about the challenges and road map, the CJI said it had been the judiciary's endeavour to maintain the independence of the CBI. Courts have issued guidelines to prevent political influence in the functioning of the organisation.

Besides, administrative autonomy without financial autonomy makes for a toothless tiger. He said various committees, including parliamentary committees, had pointed to the slow pace of fund utilisation, which, in turn, led to a steep reduction in fund allocation. 

This does not augur well for the CBI’s projects such as creating technical and forensic support units. These and similar capacity enhancements were designed to play a key role in inducing efficacious investigation, and their absence would hamper investigation, the CJI said.

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