Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana on Friday said the "need of the hour" was for probe agencies to "reclaim its social legitimacy and public trust" to rectify the dent in their credibility. The first step toward achieving that was "to break the nexus with the political executive," CJI Ramana said.
"When it comes to the CBI, it possessed immense trust of the public in its initial phase. In fact, the Judiciary used to be flooded with requests for transfer of investigations to the CBI, as it was a symbol of impartiality and independence," CJI Ramana said. However, with the passage of time, their credibility has come under deep scrutiny as its "actions and inactions" in some cases have raised questions.
"The misuse of police by political masters is not a new feature," CJI Ramana said calling for an independent umbrella body to bring various probe agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) among others under one roof.
Even though such investigative bodies have de facto legitimacy, as institutions they must gain social legitimacy.
CJI Ramana was delivering the keynote address at the 19th D P Kohli Memorial Lecture on "Democracy: Role and Responsibilities of Investigative Agencies".
Probe Agencies must be independent of Executive
CJI Ramana said there was an urgent need for the creation of an independent umbrella body bringing various probe agencies like the CBI, SFIO, ED, etc. under one roof. "This body is required to be created under a statute, clearly defining its powers, functions, and jurisdictions," he said, adding that such a law would "also lead to much needed legislative oversight".
CJI Ramana said this umbrella body must be headed by an "independent and impartial authority" and appointments should be done by a committee akin to the one which appoints the Director of the CBI. "The head of the organisation can be assisted by deputies who are specialists in different domains," he added.
"This umbrella organisation will end multiplicity of proceedings. A single incident these days gets investigated by multiple agencies, often leading to dilution of evidence, contradictions in depositions, and prolonged incarceration of innocents. It will also save the institution from being blamed as a tool of harassment. Once an incident is reported, the organisation should decide as to which specialized wing should take up the investigation," CJ Ramana reasoned.
Lamenting over the loss of police credibility among the citizenry, CJI Ramana said post-independence reforms within the police forces have not been up to popular expectations making "people hesitate to approach the police in times of despair".
Political executive will change with time, but institution of CBI is permanent
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana reminded the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that political executives change with time, but the institutions are permanent. CJI Ramana said all institutions including the police and the investigative bodies must uphold and strengthen democratic values and prevent authoritarian tendencies from creeping in. "Any deviation will hurt institutions and weaken democracy," he added.
"Police should work impartially and focus on crime prevention. They should also work in co-operation with the public to ensure law and order prevails in the society," he said. CJI Ramana said the people were hesitant to approach the police in times of despair since the image of the police institution is regrettably tarnished by allegations of corruption, police excesses, lack of impartiality and close nexus with the political class.
"The image of the institution of police is regrettably tarnished by allegations of corruption, police excesses, lack of impartiality and close nexus with the political class," CJI Ramana said. He added that even police officers often approached courts complaining of harassment after a regime change. "When you try to endear yourselves to the powers, you will have to face the consequences," CJI Ramana warned.
Dictatorial governance cannot sustain country's rich diversity
CJI Ramana said that given our experience, it is proven beyond doubt that democracy is best suited for a pluralistic society like ours. "Our rich diversity cannot be sustained through dictatorial governance. It is only through democracy that our rich culture, heritage, diversity, and pluralism can be sustained and strengthened," he said.
"We Indians love our freedom. When any attempt has been made to snatch our freedom, our alert citizenry did not hesitate to seize the power back from autocrats," CJI Ramana added.