Sushant Singh Rajput case: CBI's record doesn't inspire confidence in probe

According to data, at least 65 per cent of the cases which have been probed by the federal agency between 2015 and 2018 are still awaiting closure.
Whenever there is a need for an impartial probe, be it criminal or corruption, there are demands to hand it over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This is because not just people and the government, even the judiciary fear that state investigative agencies may work in the interest of politicians or could botch-up cases due to sheer incompetence. A similar demand was recently made in Sushant Singh Rajput’s (SSR) death case.

Investigations by CBI, a central agency, which is supposedly free from interference of states and their politicians, are expected to be fair, fast and thorough. That is why the Supreme Court ordered the agency to probe Sushant Singh Rajput's death case. However, question remains whether the agency has lived up to expectations.

According to data, at least 65 per cent of the cases which have been probed by the federal agency between 2015 and 2018 are still awaiting closure. And in cases where the prosecution complaints (popularly known as chargesheets) were filed, questions were raised about the credibility of the accusations.

The INX Media case involving former Finance Minister P Chidambaram was the latest such case. Arrested on August 21, 2019, the former FM had spent more than two months in judicial custody and was granted bail by the Supreme Court in December 2019. The chargesheet produced in the matter was said to have done more harm than good.

It accused Chidamabaram and his son Karti of having received a payment of Rs 9.96 lakh as a bribe in 2008, in an exchange for a favour to INX Media, founded by Peter Mukherjea and Indrani Mukherjea. This was in contrast to the original accusations made by the CBI in its first information report (FIR) in the case where it alleged that as FM, Chidambaram had received Rs 305 crore in 2007.

"Interestingly, when CBI and Enforcement Directorate ( two premier agencies) stepped up the heat in August last year, and got custody of Chidambaram after 90 minutes of drama in Lutyens Delhi at his residence, the people anticipated explosive findings and several offences running to hundreds of crores of funds if not thousands involving several foreign entities," said an industry expert.

This wasn't the first or the only infamous case where the agency was left red-faced in the court. There have been many other instances where questions have ben raised about its investiations. Whether it was the 2G spectrum allocation case or the Arushi Talwar murder case, the CBI has faced widespread criticism at all judicial forums.

This was especially true in the 2G case, which rocked the UPA government, but the 10,000 page report filed by the CBI failed to prove the charges against former telecom minister A Raja and 17 others. They were all acquitted by the court in the case.

In the coal scam, the CBI was time and again caught on the wrong foot by the apex court and the special trial court over its investigation.

The CBI's probe in another sensitive Bofors payoff case was also unable to withstand judicial scrutiny. In May 2005, the Delhi High Court quashed all the charges against the Hinduja brothers (Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand) along with Bofors company.

CBI chargesheet against former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and others in connection with alleged illegal mining in Bellary also fell flat as all the accused were acquitted by the court.  

Unconfirmed data of 2019 suggests that about 7,000 cases related to economic offences are pending for prosecution by the CBI of which about 1500 cases are pending for more than 10 years.  

A senior retired CBI officer said, the journey of the CBI has always been rough. It faces many roadblocks and challenges and its legitimacy often comes under scanner. But, in crucial cases, the closure is not easy as it requires scrutiny of thousands of documents and examination and cross examination of testimonies. While cases, where foreign entities involved get further delayed as Letters Rogatory, seeking judicial assistance from foreign counterparts have to be executed, which is a cumbersome job, he said.

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