New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday said it was not proper for probe agencies to sit in judgement over a policy decision taken in good faith even if it is found later that there was no mala fide intent or personal monetary gain.
He also said the government will “promptly look into the legality issue of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), raised by the Gauhati High Court, and will do everything to establish the need for the probe agency”.
“Errors of judgement are distinguished from criminal acts,” the prime minister said at a conference here on curbing corruption and crime barely a month after fresh charges filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the coal allotment case rocked the top echelons of the executive.
“Over time, investigating agencies have been increasingly enquiring into administrative decisions and also matters relating to policy making. Such cases require great care in investigation,” Manmohan Singh said.
“While actions that prima facie show mala fide intent or pecuniary gain should certainly be questioned, pronouncing decisions taken with no ill-intention within the prevailing policy as criminal misconduct would certainly be flawed and excessive.”
Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office came under the lens after the CBI filed a fresh set of charges on the coal allocation case, this time finding fault with the actions of then coal secretary P.C. Parakh in allocating some blocks to private player Hindalco.
Both Parakh and the Prime Minister’s Office clarified later that the decision on the award of coal block to Hindalco, taken in 2004-05, was fair and taken in good faith and no ulterior motive was required to be attributed on the matter.
At that time, the coal portfolio was with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself and the secretary had acted at the behest of his political master.
Noting that “policy-making is a multi-layered and complex process in the government, and will increasingly become more so”, the prime minister said, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for a police agency to sit in judgement over policy formulation, without any evidence of mala fide”.
He said public servants can’t be “paralysed” in taking effective decisions based on their own sound judgement on the apprehension of ill-informed inquiry or investigation. It was, accordingly, necessary to draw lines of confidence between probe agencies and honest executive functionaries.
“It is also important that errors of judgement are distinguished from criminal acts. As I have said on earlier occasions, decision-making in a world of uncertainty is a highly risky operation and some decisions which appear sensible ex-ante may ex-post turn out to be faulty,” he said.
“Our administrative set up has to be so managed that the fear of the unknown must not lead to paralysis in decision making.”
The government, he said, will “do everything to establish the need for the CBI”.
“Some questions have come up recently about the legality of the CBI. Our government will look into this matter seriously and promptly,” Manmohan Singh said.
“We will do all that is necessary to establish the need for the CBI and its legitimacy, and protect its past and future work,” he said.
The Supreme Court’s view would be important too, said the prime minister.
“This is a matter that undoubtedly has to be considered also by the highest court in the land,” he added.
The controversy arose after a division bench of the Gauhati High Court last week questioned the validity of India’s premier investigating agency, saying that it was legally not a police force.
The Supreme Court Nov 9 stayed the Gauhati High Court’s order declaring the CBI unconstitutional and fixed Dec 6 as the next date of hearing.
Flagging larger issue about the debate on the autonomy of the CBI, Manmohan Singh said: “Under our Constitution, maintenance of public order, which would include prevention, detection and prosecution of offences is the domain of the executive. The police and the investigation agencies, therefore, are a part of the executive, and must function under its administrative supervision.”
Confidentiality is in the interest of integrity of an ongoing investigation, he said.
“This was precisely the thought process behind exempting the CBI from the RTI Act,” he added.