Reform the CBI: Let the Caged Parrot Out!

Article by Shantanu K. Bansal

The then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi in 2019 said that the “CBI had not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases… Why is that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, the CBI does a good job.” Gogoi said while addressing the 18th D P Kohli Memorial Lecture during which he presented awards to distinguished CBI personnel selected for outstanding investigation and performance.

False Case of Autonomous Institution

While the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is supposed to be an independent body, it functions under the Department of Personnel, Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Public Grievances, Government of India, which itself falls under the PMO. Further, courts as well as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) have authority over the CBI. The CVC itself is headed by top bureaucrat appointed by the government with no such operational role.

The Legacy of Failure of Conviction in the High-end Political Cases Handled by the CBI

Bofors Scam Case: The CBI’s investigation in the politically sensitive Bofors payoff case involving 250Cr. The investigation quashed all the charges against the Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and the Bofors company.

2G Scam Case: a high level corruption case involving 2,867,800,000,000 rupees. The case involving former telecom minister A Raja and others, all the accused were acquitted. Moreover, special CBI Judge O P Saini, who adjudicated all the 2G matters, had also let off the promoters of Essar Group and Loop Telecom.

Fodder Scam Case: The Supreme Court had in May, 2019 slammed the CBI for “failing to live up to its reputation” in a fodder scam case involving RJD chief Lalu Prasad, saying there was “intolerable lethargy” in filing an appeal.

Ballery Illegal Minning Case: The Rs. 35,000 crore illegal iron-ore mining scam in which the agency had chargesheeted former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and others, also fell flat with the trial court discharging all the accused in 2016.

Aircel-Maxis Case: (ongoing) involving former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and his son. in February 2017 the CBI special court dropped all charges, saying CBI pressed charges due to misreading of official files. However, the case was re-examined probably due to political considerations.

Narendra Dabholkar Case: In August 2013, writer, rationalist and activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead by two bike-borne assailants in Pune. He had taken on Asaram Bapu in March 2013 over an incident during Holi in Nagpur, while rest of Maharashtra faced drought. The Bombay High Court has rapped the the agency on the knuckles in February 2020, saying it had been seven years since Dabholkar’s death and that the trial should commence at the earliest.

From 2G, Aarushi Talwar to Babri demolition: CBI failed to give proof in many high-profile cases.

The Controversies Around Transfer of Cases

Considering the enormous amount of misuse of political clout, the CBI has lost its credibility,” late Union Minister Arun Jaitley, then leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha amid Coal scam but the government of the day has done nothing in terms of restructuring the agency.

Vineet Narain, the anti-corruption activist whose exposure of the famous Hawala case led him to file a PIL which forced pressure on the CBI notes that:

every political party which has been in Centre has used CBI to arm-twist their political opponents and it continues to be so. That has always been the case. Whenever there is a party in the Centre, they always try to protect their governments in states.” As in case of Ballery illegal Minning case.

He further notes that “CBI continues to be an instrument to blackmail political opponents. CBI is not an agency to investigate corruption, it is a burial ground of corruption. Whoever in in central government, successive governments have used it to settle their scores with political opponents and it continues to be the same. Despite all the efforts to get it autonomy, nothing has changed.

After all experts believe it’s not just a ‘caged parrot’, it’s a ‘very well trained parrot!’

CBI Conviction Rate More of an Eye Washer

The CBI claims that it has a conviction rate as high as 65-70 percent and it is comparable to the best investigation agencies in the world. But with lack of details about this number, this cannot be independently corroborated. Neither is an analysis of its record with regard to political cases possible. Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised time and again with regard to its functioning and effectiveness.

The senior police officer while speaking to The Quint, he said that CBI does about 1,000 cases a year, and that out of those 10-15 out of those are politically motivated, as in there is political pressure on them. The rest are all professionally done, he said. He also notes that it is not only the CBI, the judiciary has also played a role in making the political cases go out of hands of Investigation.

In 2012, then vigilance commissioner R Srikumar pointed out that an internal study by the CBI had shown that its conviction rate is a shocking 3.96% in corruption cases.

He told a gathering of Lokayuktas that the CBI analysed 264 corruption cases over five years concerning 698 accused, of whom 486 were central and state  officials while 212 were private persons. “While it took more than 13 months to conclude the investigations, only 8 out of 698 persons who were initially called for questioning in corruption cases were convicted, a dismal 3.96 %,” he lamented.

From 2G, 3G, Coalgat, Vadra, Bofors etc. The legacy of corruption continues but one asks has any prominent person been punished?

The Way Forward

The SC has long been advocating that CBI should be freed from any sort of political pressure. The CJI Rajan Gogoi noted during the DP Kohli memorial lecture that “CBI should be given statutory status like CAG. Efforts must be made to delink crucial aspects of the CBI from the overall administrative control of the government. The CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the

The public doesn’t even know what is the overall strength of CBI. The governemnt annually spends Rs. 800 Crore on the agency with no accountability, whatsoever.

There is a solid case of making separate cadre for the CBI and taking it out of the hands of IPS hegemony. As the CBI continues to be run by people on deputation, from IPS officers to junior rank people.

In 2012, an informal estimate done by some CBI insiders showed that of the 63 IPS officers then serving with the agency, the vast majority were posted in their home states.

This makes the entire top brass of CBI, which is 100% IPS, susceptible to political and other kinds of pressures. For example, a Tamil Nadu-born IPS officer, who is serving in Haryana cadre, will manoeuvre his way to get a posting with the CBI in Tamil Nadu.

Some sources says that CBI consist of 6000 people. In contrast, look at FBI. Over 13,000 special agents of FBI form the backbone of that organisation, and many of these special agents spend their entire career on the field, investigating crimes while rejecting more lucrative and peaceful office positions even within the FBI.

As many parliamentary reports says, it is high time that the CBI is vested with the required legal mandate and is given pan-India jurisdiction. It must have suo motto powers to investigate corruption and crime cases. This would in no way affect the essentials of our federal structure.



  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at:

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