Needed, independent prosecution agencies–Economic Times–20.03.2018

India’s criminal justice system is increasingly looking bereft of teeth. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) recently failed to secure conviction in its case that Tamil Nadu’s Maran brothers used public sector telco BSNL’s facilities, while one of them was the telecom minister, to run their television and cable business. The Karnataka police failed to convict Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik and his followers, whose violent defence, in 2009, of Indian culture by thrashing young men and women in a pub were caught on video and viewed by the world at large. Witnesses steadily turn hostile in a series of CBI cases on encounter killings. A key testimony of a principal accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case goes missing from court records.
If the situation is to be salvaged, the investigating and prosecuting arm of the government must be recast as an independent and professional agency that reports to the executive but is accountable to a committee of the legislature, besides to the Human Rights Commission. The CBI is staffed by members of the Indian Police Service, for whom a posting to the Centre is a coveted one and to secure which officers seek to ingratiate themselves with the state’s ruling dispensation. To avoid this situation, the CBI must recruit and train its personnel independently. It should report to the law and justice ministry, rather than to the department of personnel and training and the Prime Minister’s Office. Finally, the agency must be brought under parliamentary oversight through the standing committee on law and justice.
States can decide which of the cases falling in their jurisdiction should go to the CBI, but all interstate and international crimes should automatically go to it. Clear mandates will help minimise tampering with evidence and witnesses.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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