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The Judiciary should look at these caged parrots

In 2013, when the UPA government was in power, the Supreme Court had made a scathing criticism of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). During the coal scam trial, the court termed the CBI as a "parrot in the cage" of the central government which only repeated the words of the masters. The court also observed that the investigation was being made a farce by "a few masters and a parrot". In the following year, not only did the CBI fail to improve the situattion, it transpired that there were other parrots in the cage too. Since the NDA came to power in 2014, examples abound of central agencies like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED), National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Income Tax (IT) Department losing their independence and yielding to political maneuvring. NCP leader Sharad Pawar recently said that there has never been a time when ED was misused like today. He also pointed out there are instances of it being used as a tool to pressure opposition leaders in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and some southern states; apart from the ED, the CBI, NIA, IT and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have similarly been employed for political motives. Former Union Minister and Congress leader and senior lawyer Kapil Sibal said about this the other day: " We fear the ED, we fear the CBI, we fear the State, we fear the policemen, we fear everybody. We don't have any trust in anybody anymore. In 2019, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ranjan Gogoi had hinted at subversions taking place in 'political cases' through the CBI. In April this year, Chief Justice Ramana also said in a lecture that 'the CBI has gone from being the most trusted investigative agency in the country to being the most suspect'."

Investigations conducted by two English newspapers in the last two months have revealed some aspects of this awful situation. According to The Telegraph, all the raids conducted by the CBI and ED in the last 13 months were in non-BJP-ruled states - Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Kerala. This is not because there is no corruption or irregularities in BJP-ruled states or because they are more prevalent in other states. Rather, it is because investigative agencies have become subservient and stripped of freedom. The investigation report of 'Indian Express' also concurs with this conclusion. Out of 124 cases taken up by the CBI during the eight years of NDA rule, 118 (95 percent) were against opposition leaders. It was also found that ED cases against politicians have increased fourfold.

Even when cases are filed against the opposition on real or fictitious charges, those that should have been booked against the ruling party leaders are not taken up. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was one among the accused in the Sharada Chit funds scam. After he joined the BJP, the investigation stopped. There are other such examples too. The operations of investigation agencies are targeted at non-BJP parties like Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, Congress etc. Instead of charging cases as their own action, they are becoming agencies that act more on central directives. There has been an 820 percent increase in ED cases against the opposition since 2014.

As before, the entity that can still prevent this abuse and restore the autonomy and independence of central agencies is the judiciary. The norms laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narayan judgment of 1997 for the selection of CBI director were subsequently diluted in practice. All the reforms introduced by the central government from time to time were aimed at tying down the parrot in the cage. Although the Rajiv Gandhi government, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and the Narendra Modi government are all guilty in this regard, it is under the Modi government that a situation arose in which many agencies are evidently and openly being employed for narrow political ends. The changes made in the rules in this regard are intended to keep the heads of agencies under the government's own control. The higher judiciary should be prepared to correct this trend, and the public and activists should be vigilant and bring it to its attention.

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TAGS:Central agencies CBI NIA ED parrots in cage supreme court Kapil Sibal NV Ramana The Telegraph investigation 820 percent increase 
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