Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Tuesday said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enjoys tremendous trust among the citizens but in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases the agency has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny.
He also batted for the administrative autonomy of the CBI saying efforts must be made to delink crucial aspects of the agency from overall administrative control of the government.
Speaking at the 18th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture, Gogoi said, "CBI which is legally known as Delhi Special Police Establishment, is one of the few investigative agencies that has managed to carve out for itself a special place."
He said as a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary investigative agency, with a wide range of work, it has for most part of its existence enjoyed tremendous trust among the citizenry.
"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," he said.
The CJI said that "equally true it is that such lapses may not have happened infrequently. Such instances reflect systemic issues and indicate a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics."
The CJI said that 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 said.
Raising concerns over the investigative agency, the CJI said, the issues ailing the working of a complex institution such as the CBI, things such as legal ambiguity, weak human resource, lack of adequate investment, accountability and political and administrative interference seem to be imminent concerns.
Elaborating his concerns, Gogoi said, "Why is that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, the CBI does a good job. A reverse situation led to the celebrated case of Vineet Narain versus UOI, wherein the SC expressing concern at the state of affairs, laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force."
"However, given that the superintendence and control of the agency continues to, in large measure, lie with the executive by virtue of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, the possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever present. I have no doubt that there is more than enough strength within the organisation to deal with any such situation."
The CJI said, each of the above noted concerns carries the potential of adversely denting the autonomy of the police force as a whole, the faith reposed in the working of the agency and the integrity of its functioning. This in turn has severe ramifications on the ability of the agency to play a constructive and positive role within the justice dispensation system.
Talking about the current challenges that the CBI faces, the CJI said, "It is indeed heartening to see that many of the recommendations offered by the judiciary to reform the functioning of CBI have been accepted as is by the central government. Other initiatives having a positive bearing on the functioning of CBI, such as the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, and the recent operationalisation of the Lokpal, are indeed promising."
The CJI also recommended the CBI to modernise its force with the introduction of new technologies to handle new-age crimes, financial autonomy and better manpower.
Talking about the administrative autonomy of the agency, Gogoi said, "Efforts must be made to delink crucial aspects of CBI from the overall administrative control of the government. The CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
"The legal mandate of CBI must be strengthened by having a comprehensive legislation addressing deficiencies relating to organisational structure, charter of functions, limits of power, superintendence, and oversight," he added.