By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Work should speak for itself, and when it fails in convincing people, interested parties come forward to defend or to praise the people of institutions who are accused of inefficiency or deliberate omission and commission. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come forward in defence of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) showering praises for their ‘efficiency’ which was very harshly commented upon by the Supreme Court of India only one-and-half year ago. Even recently, a petition has been filed jointly by the 14 political parties in the Supreme Court of India alleging the central agencies have become merely tools of Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to subdue political opposition in the country.
It is in this backdrop, the question remains – is the PM’s praise is genuine? Or is it simply a praise for doing anything or everything what PM desired or instructed orally or in black and white, even though the actions amounted to be arbitrary as the opposition submitted in the Supreme Court on oath in the form of affidavit? The matter was mentioned on March 24 before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud by Senior Advocate A M Singhvi seeking laying down of guidelines for law enforcing agencies and courts on arrest, remand and bail while alleging arbitrary use of central investigating agencies Enforcement Directorate (ED) and CBI.
It was submitted before the CJI that there was “a clear trend of using ED raids as a tool of harassment … 95 per cent of cases are of opposition leaders.” The matter was put for hearing on April 5, and only after the completion of the hearings and judgement, the country would know the reality behind the praise of CBI by PM Modi and the allegation of opposition that CBI officials have been acting arbitrarily on behest of the Modi government. The 14 political parties included INC, AAP, Shiv Sena (Uddhav), DMK, RJD, BRS, AITC, NCP, JMM, JD(U), CPI(M), CPI, SP, and JKNC.
The dismal performance of the CBI and ED has been highlighted in their petition alleging that they are registering numerous cases against opposition political leaders but only few convictions are achieved. Obviously, it indicated about lack of evidence in the cases, which speaks a lot in itself about the so called ‘efficiency’ that PM Modi had been praising during his speech at the diamond jubilee celebration of CBI on April 3.
On CBI, the opposition pleaded, “Between 2004-14, of the 72 political leaders investigated by the CBI, 43 (under 60 per cent) were from the Opposition of the time. Now, this same figure has risen to over 95 per cent.”
“The same pattern is reflected in ED’s investigations as well, with the proportion of Opposition leaders from the total number of politicians investigated rising from 54 per cent (before 2024) to 95 per cent (after 2014),” the opposition submitted. The plea also mentioned that only 23 convictions under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) have been secured as of now, even as the number of cases registered by the ED under the PMLA have risen exponentially (from 209 in 2013-14 FY to 981 in 2020-21, and 1,180 in 2021-22.)
On the other hand PM Modi has praised CBI in reference to such a performance of the CBI that opposition criticized. He talked about dynasties and nepotism in politics leading to an ecosystem of corruption in the country that is detrimental to development, democracy, and justice in the country. He said that agency’s key responsibility was to free India from corruption. He also said that there was no dearth of political will today to act against corruption, and officers should act against the corrupt, however powerful, without hesitation. However, the question remains as to why there is emphasis on only registering cases and taking action against the accused? Are there little evidence against the accused opposition leaders leading to very low level of their conviction after an inordinate delay in pendency of the cases in courts? Can we say PM’s praise of CBI is justified when they are quick in registering cases against opposition leaders but not able to gather evidences against them that can stand in court proceedings? There must be something more behind the praises than the praised ‘efficiency’ of the CBI that has won from the PM.
Only in September 2021, the Supreme Court while examining the efficiency of CBI had said that it was not enough for the agency just to lodge a case and conduct probe but also to ensure that prosecution is successfully done. The bench had earlier noted that there was “a saga of gross negligence in performing duties” resulting in inordinate delay in filing of cases in courts.
CBI’s appeal in that case was filed after an inordinate delay of 542 days, which the Supreme Court found, prima facie, to be “gross incompetence” which raised serious questions of its efficiency”.
Now let us come to the level of efficiency of CBI under PM Modi. The then CBI director has said in October 2021 in the Supreme Court that conviction rate over a period of time remained in the range of 65-70 per cent. In 2014, the year PM Modi had become PM, the conviction rate was 69 per cent.
The CBI director had submitted that there were 13,291 appeals pending in sessions courts, HCs, and the SC. Cases pending in trial courts were 9,757, out of which 500 were pending for over 20 years, 921 for between 15-20.
Moreover, only a year ago in February 2022,the Supreme Court was informed that cases pending against sitting and former MPs and MLAs had increased from 4,110 in December 2018 to 4,984 in December 2021. Amicus Curiae Vijay Hansaria had said, “Some of these cases were pending for more than three decades. 2,324 cases were against sitting legislators, and 1,675 cases were against former legislators. In 1,991 cases, even charges were not framed. 264 cases were pending due to stay granted by the High Courts.”
Another report submitted in November 2022 by Hansaria said that in 20 states and UTs for data was collected, total criminal cases pending against MLAs and MPs, bot sitting and former, were 3096 out of which 962 have been pending for over five years.
CBI has separately informed the Supreme Court of India through a separate report that 121 cases were pending trial against present and former MPs and MLAs. The number of present and formers MPs were 51, out of which 14 were sitting MPs. Five MPs had already been dead, who cannot then defend themselves against the allegations. As for the present and past MLAs, a total of 112 cases were pending, out of which 34 were sitting, 78 were former, and 9 were dead.
It is clear that performance of the investigating agencies against politicians is dismal. PM has only one justification left for his praise for the CBI’s performance – that they are acting promptly perhaps against the politicians against whom his government wants ‘action’, though evidences are not promptly produced in courts. It certainly amounts to hounding the opposition leaders even without evidence. (IPA Service)