There is a yawning gap between behaving like a caged parrot and behaving like a mad bull. But the Central Bureau of Investigation seems to negotiate this huge distance with effortless ease. No one can question its right to investigate and file reports on coal block allocations. In its latest first information report it has named Kumar Mangalam Birla and the former secretary of the coal ministry, P.C. Parakh. The CBIís contention is that the appointed screening committee had set aside the block for public sector companies. But this was overturned and the block given to Hindalco, a company that Mr Birla heads. The CBI believes that this was an abuse of power. The suggestion is that the reversal of the recommendation was done in return for some sort of consideration. The CBI, however, is unwilling to reveal everything that it knows on the matter. This serves no other purpose save fuelling speculation. The CBI thus fails to meet its own standards of transparency. It is not difficult to accept that everything was not above board in the allocation of coal blocks. But this is quite different from saying that every allocation was corrupt or that there was something underhand in the allocation made to Mr Birla. If the CBI does have information that there was a quid pro quo involved between Hindalco and top officials of the coal ministry then it should release that information instead of just tainting one of Indiaís leading industrialists by way of an FIR against him.
That the CBI should be allowed to function independent of the government and the bureaucracy is a point that is easily accepted by all sensible people. But as indicated in the previous paragraph, in its quest for autonomy the CBI is not adequately fulfilling the condition of transparency. This condition dictates that details of a case should be made available in the public domain unless such details hinder the investigation process. When the CBI is unwilling to part with such information it should provide an acceptable explanation for not doing so. This will prevent, given the time taken to move from an FIR to a formal filing of a case, the reputation of companies from being smeared. The absence of transparency of the CBI ó its high-handedness, in fact ó is sending out wrong signals to global investors. Finally, is there any law against keeping cash in an office ó no matter what amount ó so long as tax has been paid on it and proper accounts maintained?