On the face of it, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi is going against the judgment of a Constitution Bench that, two months ago, ruled the government’s nod was not required for the CBI to go after senior bureaucrats suspected of corrupt practices. This was widely welcomed—this paper’s view was the opposite—since it was argued, it was this protection that encouraged bureaucrats to do the wrong thing at the behest of the government of the day; indeed there have been several instances of the government refusing to allow CBI to proceed against bureaucrats suspected to be corrupt. While plumping for a reconsideration of the ruling, Rohtagi has made a two-step argument. First, he says, the Supreme Court was probably struck by the unequal nature of the protection which applied only to senior bureaucrats; so let’s apply the protection to all bureaucrats. Second, and more importantly, he cites the Vineet Narain case to show the Supreme Court recognised the case of corruption is not a black-and-white one and it “is a matter of inference of corrupt motive for the decision, with nothing to prove directly any illegal gain to the decision maker”. So, Rohatgi concludes, that if the CVC—not the government—examines each CBI request to proceed against a bureaucrat, the SC will find it acceptable.
This is important if decisions have to be taken, and this is why this newspaper argued against the SC judgment. In many cases, decisions taken by bureaucrats may appear to favour one firm, but they are taken with a larger national interest in mind. PC Parakh deciding to allot half a coal mine to the AV Birla Group certainly helped it, but it was taken with a view to ensure the group’s production of aluminium—vital for the national economy—did not suffer. While the CBI found no evidence of money changing hands, its argument was that Parakh needed to be proceeded against since his decision helped Birla. If a similar decision is taken to hike natural gas prices, it will certainly help Reliance Industries, though the decision is being considered in the context of the need to raise India’s natural gas exploration and production. Essentially, Rohatgi’s argument is that if bureaucrats are afraid of taking decisions, this will hurt the national interest. Going after corrupt bureaucrats is important, but not victimising honest ones is probably more critical. It is up to the CVC to be able to figure out