The Central Bureau of Investigation is a government agency, but it is also a handmaiden that the Supreme Court calls upon to fill in factual background. When it collects facts, it often comes across what look like breaches of law. It does not accumulate and stack them into the reports it makes at the end of investigations; instead, it makes an immediate public record of what it considers breach of law. The record takes the form of a first information report; it is usually a narrative of the breach of law and of who broke which laws, when and where. It throws in every possible breach and names of all possible parties; rather than file thousands of cases, each detailing an individual crime, it finds it more economical to throw in all misdemeanours into a single case, leaving it to courts to throw out those that do not hold water.
There are two types of law: those governing the contractual relations between private persons are called civil law, while those relating to an act that the government aims to punish and discourage are subsumed in criminal law. Improper use of government authority is one of the acts that is considered criminal. That includes the improper allocation of a block of land for coal mining. In this sense, every block allocation that the court may possibly consider improper is potentially criminal. In September last year, the CBI had filed an FIR in the matter of coal block allocation in which it had implicated five companies, their 20 directors, and unnamed government servants involved in allocating the blocks. The filing was hardly noticed, for the only relatively well known persons it named were Vijay Darda, a member of parliament, and his friend, Manoj Jaiswal, who are so close that they have often been seen wearing the same clothes — separately of course.
In contrast, the FIR it has filed against Kumar Mangalam Birla has caused a sensation. It is perhaps not surprising that the business community is up in arms, for Birla is an estimable member of it. But even Anand Sharma, the minister of commerce and industry, has pitched in with an accusation that the CBI had played to the gallery and created an atmosphere of sensation and shock. Not to be left behind, sundry lawyers and politicians have been asking why the prime minister was not honoured with an FIR: after all, he was the minister in charge when the coal blocks were distributed. This is all good theatre; but two facts are being ignored in this free-for-all. First, India still follows the system of government it inherited from the British, under which bureaucrats are responsible for all action; ministers only guide and instruct them. And while the CBI follows the practice of throwing in all possible private names, it implicates only the secretaries from within the government.