They all want CBI only to fight political battles
Prasanna Mohanty | December 21, 2011
If you ever wondered why our political establishment could never legislate an effective anti-corruption mechanism and has been grappling with the Lokpal bill for more than four decades, Anna Hazare notwithstanding, take a close look at the contours of the ombudsman the union cabinet cleared on Tuesday evening.
The contours make it abundantly clear that again a toothless tiger is being sought to be created which will meet the fate of the central vigilance commission (CVC).
The Lokpal will not have an investigating arm of its own but an ‘enquiry’ wing which may engage CBI for investigation if needed. The Lokpal will have supervisory power over CBI only in those cases it refers but the administrative control of CBI would remain firmly with the government, department of personnel and training (DoPT) to be precise.
This is the kind of arrangement that exists today, vis-à-vis the CVC, adding no strength to CVC but ensuring CBI is used as a political weapon against political allies and rivals.
The prime example is the manner in which CBI has been used to keep Mulayam Singh Yadav and/or Mayawati on the right side of the UPA through disproportionate assets cases. Every time the UPA feels threatened (as it did, for example, during the passage of the nuclear liability bill and vote of confidence), the CBI files a conciliatory affidavit in the court to make them fall in line only to reverse its position later.
The DoPT, which is a government department, keeps effective control over CBI because of its power to appoint and transfer the officials.
The procedure to appoint CBI director is proposed to be changed now. The selection panel will comprise of PM, CJI and the leader of opposition, instead of CVC and two secretaries to the government of India who do the job now. But that wouldn’t change much, given the same vested interest of the two political leaders in the panel to keep CBI pliable.
The cabinet was emboldened to take such a course knowing well that the main opposition coalition, the NDA, too is keen to use CBI as a political tool and won’t oppose when the bill is introduced in parliament. If the CVC was rendered ineffective in 2003, when the CVC ordinance was converted into a law, it was NDA’s doing. It did two things then: (a) reintroduced ‘single-directive’ that took away prosecution powers from CVC in case of officers of joint secretary level and above and (b) provided CVC with a vague supervisory power over the CBI.
Listen to the official position of the BJP-led NDA. Its leaders keep saying their official position is in favour of an “autonomous” CBI. They don’t say: take away government control over CBI and hand the agency to the Lokpal. The CBI is ‘autonomous’ even now. So what are they talking about? And what about contradictory noises about splitting the CBI into investigation and prosecution wings and handing over one wing to the Lokpal? These are no more than smokescreens used to mask their real motive.
The Lokpal has been weakened by several other provisions too:
* It will have no power of its own to ‘enquire’ into anything, but will only ‘enquire’ into the ‘complaints’ made to it. No complaints, no enquiry. Never mind corruption.
* The Lokpal will be a nine-member body to be selected by a panel constituting PM, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, CJI and the Lok Sabha speaker. Three of them are politicians with their own possible vested interests. The PM and Lok Sabha speaker are from the ruling coalition. The leader of opposition is a potential PM and has an interest in keeping Lokpal pliable. One CJI makes no difference. His presence may even create a problem in subsequent judicial review precisely because of his involvement.
* Fifty percent of the Lokpal body will come from reserved categories – SCs, STs, OBCs and women. This will compromise the search for right candidates.
* CVC will continue to exist and look into corruption cases against group C and D officials. (So, the lower bureaucracy is out of Lokpal). It will report to the Lokpal on corruption matters but it is not same as Lokpal having jurisdiction over the lower bureaucracy.
* Prime minister comes within the Lokpal’s ambit with a caveat that the enquiry will be in-camera, to be taken up only after three-fourths of Lokpal panel approves it and trial would begin after PM relinquishes office. These are tricky provisions designed to keep the PM effectively out of the Lokpal.
Also, the PM can’t be probed on matters involving internal and external security issues, international relations, public order, atomic energy and space. The problem in this is ‘internal security’ and ‘public order’. A lot of things can be packed into it to avoid enquiry.
* Conduct of MPs inside parliament is kept out of the Lokpal purview. A dozen MPs were thrown out in 2005 for taking money to ask questions in parliament. Some others have and are facing charges of taking bribe to vote in certain ways inside parliament. Keeping such conducts outside the ambit of the anti-corruption mechanism amounts to nothing less than a licence to indulge in such corrupt practices.
With such a toothless Lokpal on the offer, it is time to seriously worry about the deception being planned by those who run the government on our behalf.
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