The landmark judgment in Vineet Narain vs Union of India, in 1997, laid out several steps to curb political influence in the functioning of the CBI Vineet Narain and others were the petitioners and Union of India and another were the respondents.
On 25th March 1991, Ashfaq Hussain Lone, alleged member of the terrorist organization Hizbul Mujahideen, was arrested in Delhi. Upon interrogation, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted raids on the premises of Surender Kumar Jain and his business.
During the raid, the CBI seized two diaries from the premises. They contained details of huge payments made to various persons who were identified only by initials. The initials corresponded to the initials of various high-ranking politicians of different political parties and of high-ranking bureaucrats. The source of funding was linked to suspected terrorists.
The scandal, popularly known as ‘Hawala Scandal’, attracted widespread media coverage and public attention. The CBI was criticised for its failure to initiate investigations of the politicians and officials with the apparent intent to protect certain implicated Individuals who were extremely influential in government and politics.
Nothing having been done in the matter of investigating the Jains or the contents of their diaries, Vineet Narain, a journalist, filed a writ petitions on 4th October 1993 in public benefit under article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Though the primary purpose of the case was to compel a proper investigation into the scam, the focus of the judgment was on the future and autonomy of the CBI.
Following the Court orders, investigations were conducted and charge sheets were filed against certain accused. However, all the cases collapsed at the stage of prosecution in court.
DEMANDS OF THE PETITIONERS
The petitioners alleged that the Government agencies, like the CBI and the revenue authorities, have failed to perform their duties and legal obligations
They have failed to conduct proper investigation in the matters arising out of the seizure of the ‘Jain Diaries’ in certain raids conducted by the CBI.
They also alleged that arrest of a certain terrorist led to the discovery of financial support to them by illegal means and a nexus between several important politicians, bureaucrats and the illegal source of such funding.
The CBI failed to Investigate the matter. This is being done with a view to protecting the persons involved, who are very influential and powerful in the political setup.
The petite argued that the scandal discloses the nexus between crime and corruption in public life in high places, which poses a serious threat to the integrity, security and economy of the nation.
They demanded that the Government agencies be compelled to duly perform their legal obligations, to prevent erosion of the rule of law and the preservation of democracy in the country.
In particular, the petitioner pleaded for-
- The direction of the Court to investigate the scandal in accordance with the law.
- Appointment of police officers, in whose integrity, independence and competence the Court has confidence, for conducting and/or supervising the said investigation
- Suitable directions to ensure that the culprits are dealt with according to law.
- Directions by the Supreme Court, so that such evil actions on the part of the investigating agencies and their political superiors are not repeated in the future.
Referring to the Vishaka case judgment, the Supreme Court said, ‘it is the duty of the executive to fill the vacuum by executive orders because Its field is coterminous with that of the legislature, and where there is inaction even by the executive, the judiciary must step in.
The Supreme Court laid down the following important guidelines-
- The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) must be given legal status.
- Central Vigilance Commissioner shall be made by a Committee comprising the Prime Minister of India,Home minister and the leader of opposition.
- The CVC must be its efficient working and government must be answerable to its working and the chief vigilance commissioner mshal supervise and control all this.
- The Central Government must take all steps to sepearte this body from political interfarance and having an image of an independent body.
- Recommendations for appointment of the Director, CBI shall be made by a Committee headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner with the Home Secretary and Secretary (Personnel) as members.
- The Director, CBI shall have a minimum tenure of two years regardless of the date of his superannuation.
- The Director, CBI shall have full freedom for allocation of work within the agency as also for constituting teams for investigations
The Supreme Court also laid out similar guidance for the Enforcement Directorate.
The Supreme Court also struck down the ‘Single Directive’. As per this directive. ‘prior sanction of the designated authority is required to initiate the investigation against officers of the Government and the Public Sector Undertakings (PSUS), nationalized banks above a certain level
The Central Vigilance Commissioner Act, 2003, reinstated the Single directive requiring the prior sanction of the government for pursuing an investigation against bureaucrats of the level of Joint Secretary and above.
Vineet Narain case was a step in the direction to ensure accountability in public life.
The Supreme Court liberally interpreted its powers under the Constitution to devise various innovative procedural techniques. It gave detailed directions to the executive and formulated guidelines to fill a legislative vacuum on the issue of public corruption.
It created public awareness about the issue of public corruption and Inspired people to engage with the judicial system through the process of public interest litigation.
Though in Vineet Narain case the Supreme Court laid out guideline to secure the functional autonomy of the CBI, the guidelines are sure followed in letter and spirit. The guidelines were heavily diluted by the successive governments during implementation
For example, one of the guidelines gave fixed two-year tenure to the Director of CBL But recently, the Central Government sent the CBI director Alok Kumar Verma on compulsory leave Though the government has not removed the Director from the post, in forcibly sending him on leave and appointing joint director M. Nageswara Rao as interim director, it has effectively done the same It runs contrary to a Supreme Court directive.
Author(s) Name: Rajdev Mishra (BBD University)