CBI’s Shining Example

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The news of the Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI, charge-sheeting nine policemen in the infamous BT Road “fake” encounter killing, should serve as a lesson on how putting justice on course, precisely by introducing accountability, cannot harm anybody’s interest, not the least that of the establishment or the so called much cited “national interest”. This so called “national interest”, on which incidentally both the establishment and those fighting the establishment swear in equal measures, has been too often used to scuttle debates on so many issues of vital public importance, and in this sense, the frequency of the use of this alibi should be treated as a barometer for the democratic credential of those using it. One is able to appreciate the timeless parody of a statement by Samuel Johnson that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, even more now than ever before. Justice, truth, accountability are in everybody’s interest, and as a thumb rule, it can confidently be said that those who do not agree, do so because they have lies and corrupt acts to hide. Open and transparent investigations such as the one by the CBI in the case in question (cannot) and has not depleted the police morale at all. On the other hand, we will not be surprised at all if it has bolstered the spirit of those in the police who believe in doing their jobs well and by the rule of law. Quite without any doubt, the present case would have salvaged some of the lost faith of the ordinary men and women on the streets, in the capability of the system to deliver justice. We hope the trend is picked up so that the people come to trust the police and indeed the entire institutions of the state once again. The CBI, at least in this case, deserves a standing ovation. The CBI charge-sheet should also be a vital clue for those dithering in bringing about an overhaul of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958. If the CBI investigation had been on a similar atrocious crime by the Army personnel, would the findings have made any difference? The definitive answer is a “NO” in capital letters. Thanks to the near daily debates on the AFSPA on all the major satellite TV channels in the wake of the Kashmir trouble, some interesting cases where this has not happened have come to public knowledge. In one such case investigated by the CBI in the state, apparently both the Kashmir police and the Army were involved. The CBI charge-sheet ultimately resulted in punitive action against the police personnel involved, but because the AFSPA protects Army personnel from legal glares, no punitive measures could be brought to the latter. The Army’s defence is in such cases is, the organisation has its own very effective internal mechanism for delivering justice, and probably it indeed has one, but unfortunately, the proceedings of this mechanism is not transparent, and doing justice as they say is as much about being seen as doing justice and not simply claiming having done it on the quiet. It is true the Army can come to the aid of civil administration only if it is permitted by the law and that this permission can only be through a special Act, but nothing says such an Act will has to be allowed to so brazenly disregard the dignity and rights of individual citizens. If not anything else, public accountability must be introduced into it. The forces must have special powers, but tagged with accountability. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, which is why there must have to be a provision for power to be legally checked by responsibility. In a few days from now, the Union cabinet probably would have taken a decision on the fate of the AFSPA, this time compelled by the situation in Kashmir. The battle lines within the cabinet are somewhat clear. The defence minister, prompted by the feeling within the Army establishment is reluctant to bring any modification the AFSPA. In brief press comments today, he was evasive and only said whatever decision the cabinet takes jointly on the matter will be abided by faithfully by everybody. The home minister and the Prime Minister on the other hand are seemingly inclined to the opinion that a revisit and reassessment of the AFSPA is overdue. It remains to be seen which viewpoint holds, or what compromise between the two viewpoints is ultimately reached. But as so many have said on various forums, ultimately it must be the civil government’s decision which settles the issue, and not any pressures from the military or any other quarter.

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