The tussle has been longish, and very revealing. The Supreme Court has struck down a law that required the Central Bureau of Investigation to gain permission from the government before inquiring into the actions of bureaucrats of the level of joint secretary and above. The court has done this a second time. In December 1997, the Supreme Court had quashed the same principle, to which the government had retaliated by resurrecting it through an ordinance. Although the provision was removed when the court objected, it was back in place by November 2000 in the Central vigilance commission bill. The government’s reluctance — and this includes all parties — to allow the CBI its full investigative scope among top bureaucrats suggests, embarrassingly, the close links between officers and politicians in matters of power abuse and corruption.
The Supreme Court has said that by providing a cut-off, this provision — Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act — protects senior officers from inquiry and thus discriminates against junior officers, violating Article 14 of the Constitution. The court has gone straight to one of the chief sources of corruption in the system by undermining the cosy relationship between some politicians and bureaucrats. Neither would find it easy to act corruptly without the help of the other. The government’s argument that the provision protects senior officers from false allegations has been found wanting. While the Supreme Court’s ruling once again marks a step forward in the running battle against corruption, certain other questions must be addressed, too, in order to make the system clean and efficient. The question of protection cannot be dumped in its entirety. The Right to Information Act already allows file notings to be shown on demand, something that may cause a slowing down in the routine work of bureaucrats. Hesitation, the refusal to take unusual decisions, a sapping of dynamism would be some of the results of this. Fear does not make good officers. Therefore, to counter the false or malicious construction of cases, there should be a heavy penalty upon the exposure of such. For this, two things are necessary. One is the full, free and unbiased working of the CBI that the Supreme Court is trying to ensure. The other is a houseful of honest politicians. There is, of course, no harm in dreaming of a perfect world.