It is a tough call for the government. While it cannot afford, for obvious political reasons, any dilution of the Prime Minister&’s much-hyped campaign against corruption it will also have to satisfy demands from bureaucrats that they be accorded protection against frivolous and motivated prosecution. Representatives of the IAS Officers Association recently met the minister of state for personnel to articulate apprehensions over false accusations from enforcement agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, and claim that a “protective shield” is being considered — for both serving and retired officials.

It may become mandatory for the probe agency to seek prior approval from a competent authority before initiating an inquiry. The Association cited a series of cases against senior officials, mainly those who have recently retired, as evidence of needless harassment.

The demand was not pulled out of thin air; but based on the report of a panel of the Rajya Sabha that had examined a Bill seeking to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act. “No police officer”, the select committee had advocated “shall conduct any inquiry or investigation into any alleged offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant under this Act, where the alleged offender is relatable to any recommendation made or decision taken by such public servant in discharge of his official functions or duties without prior approval.” Cut through that legal verbosity and it is evident that if the Bill is so drafted investigating agencies will be denied their “fishing expeditions” and be required to do solid groundwork before initiating action. Not surprisingly, the CBI opposed the move when it made its presentation to the select committee.

The CBI, other agencies too, have invited this restriction on themselves. There is no need to recall the scathing comments of the Supreme Court on the functioning of a former CBI chief to bolster the impression that the agency has willingly allowed itself to become a “weapon” in the hands of the presiding deity on Raisina Hill. The “caged parrot” description applies to the agency&’s top officials over the years, regardless of which party was in power.

It was often alleged that the CBI was the most effective cementing force of coalition governments — the “threat” of a probe caused disgruntled allies to discard plans for quitting the government and endangering a majority in the Lok Sabha.

The need for “prior approval of a competent authority” is in itself no guarantee against vendetta — politicians have made a fine art of “fixing” officials who do not toe their line, but it is a mini-safeguard. For, until the CBI is rendered truly independent of sarkari control it will fail to deliver what is promised in its charter.