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After the law minister was made to resign, for having "vetted" a confidential CBI report, the court justifiably insisted that the government devise ways to free the agency from political interference. In the case of the controversial coal block allocations, a measure of that autonomy has arguably been at work — given who the agency's investigations have singed. Yet, troubling questions remain unanswered. That there is more spectacle than fact in the public domain in a crucial case, however, is not entirely because of the CBI. The government must take the larger share of the blame. Its studied silence and stoic refusal to take ownership of its own policy on coal block allocation during the period under scrutiny takes away the pressure on investigators to make their case more rigorously. It leaves the field open for them to play to the gallery.
And it is not just the CBI. In recent times, an intricate network of checks and balances has seemed imperilled due to other institutions often assuming overweening roles, attempting to fill the space vacated by a weak or silent political executive. These players and institutions have sensed a building climate of hostility towards the political class and the government, and cast themselves as the stern correctors. But this has often been in ways that blur or undermine their own professional remit. Again, in the matter of the coal allocations, the CAG came up with a loss figure of a headline-making Rs 10.7 lakh crore in its draft report — it later revised it to a sixth of that amount. Constitutionally mandated to audit government receipts and expenditures and hold the executive to account, the CAG has set itself a more ambitious agenda in recent years, seeing its role as an activist one, trying to corner the government with its findings, armed with more zeal than facts.