Three days after he assumed charge, CBI director Alok Kumar Verma has been asked by the Supreme Court to lead a criminal probe against the agency’s former chief, Ranjit Sinha. Sinha has been accused of trying to influence the investigation into the coal scam. The apex court’s directive is significant in more ways than one.
This will be the first instance where a CBI director will conduct a criminal probe against a former chief of the agency. The court has reposed its faith in “the impartiality of the CBI” to conduct “an investigation into the abuse of authority by Ranjit Sinha”. Given that the CBI’s impartiality has been questioned time and again, the apex court’s directive is a vote of confidence of sorts. It is now up to the agency to measure up to the task.
The directive is also significant in view of the apex court’s earlier strictures against the CBI in the coal scam. In 2013, the Supreme Court excoriated the agency as a “caged parrot” and “its master’s voice”.
The apex court had then noted that its 1995 directive to insulate probe agencies from political influences was regularly flouted. It had said “intrusions” by the-then law minister, Ashwani Kumar, officials of the PMO and coal ministry in the coal scam investigations had “shaken the entire process”.
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Even then, the court had indicated that it was not in favour of appointing an outside agency to monitor the CBI probe, observing that this would amount to tampering with the sanctity of the investigation. However, it had said that it was not averse to asking the Central Vigilance Commission to ensure that the CBI probe is fair and free from political interference.
This time, too, the apex court has asked the CBI director to take the “Chief Vigilance Commissioner into confidence in respect of the investigations.” But the court also asserted that the “change of guard” in the CBI is ground enough to repose its faith in the agency’s impartiality. Verma will be assisted by two officers of his agency.
The allegations against Sinha have further dented the none-too-good reputation of the CBI. In May 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that it was “completely inappropriate” for the agency’s ex-director to have met the accused in the coal scam without the presence of investigating officers.
It found him lacking in “ethical rectitude”. In its latest ruling on the case, the court has held Sinha prima-facie guilty, but said further investigation was required into the allegations against him. That the investigation has been assigned to the agency he once headed offers the CBI a chance to redeem itself, both in the eyes of the judiciary and the public at large.
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