Clear the mess

The government must begin the process of damage limitation at CBI with a comprehensive statement on recent developments there

Putting an end to the mess in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and restoring the agency’s credibility must be of paramount importance for the government. Years of policy paralysis under the UPA and keeping the CBI mess in fetters seem to have taken a toll on the country’s premier investigation agency. Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana’s open war is, in this sense, a culmination of the government’s neglect leading to a collapse of the system of checks and balances in the CBI.

More serious are reports suggesting the involvement of a central minister and accusations of bribery against him as part of the deal to soft pedal Moin Qureshi’s case that hitherto lingered during the tenures of CBI directors AP Singh and Ranjit Sinha. Neither left office on a high note. In fact, stories of their links with Qureshi had hit the wires before Asthana and Verma came into the limelight at the CBI. More than the individuals involved, it is the credibility of the CBI and other institutions involved in delivery of criminal justice that is at stake. The latest in this saga is the leak of submissions made by CBI director Alok Verma against the findings of the CVC that were submitted in a sealed cover to Supreme Court chief justice Ranjan Gogoi.

Verma’s submissions before the CVC and Supreme Court have come into the public domain pointing the needle of suspicion to the rival camp. Several sensitive points, including a reference to the NSA and a minister without any back-up evidence have hit the news wires, creating a huge furore. In fact, the CBI mess put out in public domain every other day has provided the perfect moment for opposition leaders like chief ministers N. Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), Arvind Kejriwal (New Delhi) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) to ringfence themselves against any probe by central agencies. While, they make no secret of their animosity to the BJP leadership and to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, revelations in the Supreme Court regarding the CBI provide some credence to the points raised by them. Against this backdrop, and with the CBI’s very own reputation in near tatters with its most senior officials tearing into each other, this is as good a time as any for the government to come up with a comprehensive statement on the CBI’s developments.

Every institution has specific and defined roles to perform. Interfering with each other may not be the right way forward. The Supreme Court may consider appointing a panel of sleuths to get to the bottom of La Affaire CBI. On its part, the government should take the lead in streamlining the administration and functioning of CBI. It should not sit tight after having sent Asthana and Verma on long leave and appointing M. Nageswara Rao as caretaker director. Involving all stakeholders in setting the house in order at CBI may be the starting point for a full-fledged clean-up.