Why India may never get a super agency, Sachidananda Murthy explains

Proposals to merge investigative agencies have met internal and external opposition

Chief Justice N.V. Ramana’s proposal for a super investigative agency replacing multiple Central institutions is not a new one. There have been demands earlier, too, to merge the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office and the National Investigation Agency into an umbrella organisation under one powerful boss. Ramana feels that if the merger is done through a carefully crafted law, then there would be no scope for political interference.

He argued during a police lecture that a committee of experts could choose the uber agency’s head; someone who will owe allegiance only to the Constitution and not to any individual or party. The cupboards of the prime minister’s office, and the ministries of home, finance, personnel and law have many files on the merger proposals, but there has been internal and external opposition to the creation of such a behemoth.

Illustration: Job P.K Illustration: Job P.K

Firstly, there have been turf wars between the four ministries who argue that they know best how to investigate crimes in their domain. The finance ministry has gone on expanding and muscling the ED, and the income tax, GST and customs investigation wings for probing money laundering and tax evasion. The home ministry insists it is best qualified to investigate the anti-national and anti-social. The personnel ministry says that the CBI is the right agency to probe corruption cases in the government. And the corporate affairs ministry is looking to expand the SFIO.

In recent years, the CBI has lost anti-terrorism cases to the NIA and financial fraud cases to the SFIO. The ED, with the argument that money is at the root of all crimes, has delved into the domain of all central agencies and of the state police forces, too. Big states have tried to counter it by strengthening their special investigative teams and economic affairs wings.

But in a majority government, the turf war is not a problem as the strings are controlled by an all-powerful prime minister, to whom agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing also report. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who declared war on black money and corruption in his first cabinet meeting in 2014, has relentlessly driven the agencies even to bring back economic fugitives from abroad. But, the opposition has accused the Modi government of continuously targeting political rivals, their families and friends.

Senior officials point out that the trend has been to split agencies, not merge. The NIA and the SFIO were created by taking away the powers of the CBI, while the income tax department has ceded powers to the ED. The dysfunctional Lokpal, too, has got powers which were with the CBI. There is also the argument that the investigative agencies have to be accountable to Parliament and that control can only be exercised by questioning the elected government which is responsible to Parliament. The government does not want the super agency to have powers like prosecutors in Italy and France, on whom the executive has no control.