Law Enforcement and CBI

It has become fashionable to demand “CBI Enquiry” for any perceived or actual “scam” in any state. There are some Johnny-come-lately outfits like AAP which throw around allegations like there is no tomorrow, without providing any evidence, or even following it up with an FIR or court action. They too go the whole hog and demand CBI to investigate.

Every country certainly needs a central law enforcement agency. In the US there is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. In the UK there is Scotland Yard. In India we have the Central Bureau of Investigation, the CBI. The CBI has done good work on some cases, and brought many criminals to book. They also have connections to international organisations like Interpol to assist when crimes cross national boundaries. However, if each case, for political reasons mostly, gets referred to CBI, then the organisations starts to get overburdened and the pace and quality of investigations suffers.

Each state has its own police force, some more efficient and less corrupt than others. The obvious starting point for any complaint that may arise would be to approach the local police station to file a complaint. This police station determines if they have the jurisdiction to investigate. In most cases, where special crimes are involved, the state authorities or police themselves may refer the complaint to the Economic Offences Wing, Crime Branch or the Cyber Cell. Police-setups in most states have such cells staffed by trained personnel equipped with the skills needed. Apart from this there are the special police stations and cells to take up crimes against women and children.

So why this sudden urge to handover almost every case to the CBI? One can understand if there is a crime which needs investigation in more than one state, where multiple jurisdictions are involved. Here it would make sense to hand it over to a central investigating agency like the CBI. Somewhat similar to the FBI in the US being called in.

Here it seems more of political escapism. Once the case is handed over to the CBI the state political and law enforcement establishment can throw up their hands and say it is now upto the CBI to investigate. “WE will cooperate fully with the CBI and want the truth to come out” is a common stand.  So does this work. In most cases, it just delays the process. With so many cases on hand, and inadequate staff, prioritizing cases becomes an issue for the CBI. On top of that, some of these cases also go to court in the form of Public Interest Litigation – PILs – filed by various individuals or organisations at the state or centre. This brings the CBI investigation into court glare, and often the court sets up special teams or court appointed committees to oversee the investigation. This adds one more layer of reporting and often interference.

As a result of all of this, law enforcement has become a convenient pass the buck situation. The local police heads loose authority, and in the process, respect of subordinates, demoralizing the force and reducing if not eliminating accountability at the local level. The local beat constable who is the mainstay of any force looses interest in investigating any major case, being quite satisfied with handling petty crime at his or her level. It is time this alarming situation is reversed and all concerned at the states and centre need to put their heads together for this.