D.P. Kohli The  Architect  of  CBI         

C.V. Narasimhan

            D.P. Kohli was the founder Director of Central Bureau of Investigation and the architect who carefully designed and crafted its infrastructure and directed its affairs for over 16 years during the 1950s and 60s, with great distinction, dignity, dedication, competence and, above all, integrity of the highest order.

          I had the privilege of working in the CBI for over 12 years as SP and DIG under his Directorship at that time, and could fully imbibe the philosophy and culture of the CBI as it then was. It was a thrilling and proud moment in my career when I was posted Director, CBI in 1977 and occupied the same chair he had sat on. The CBI is now under lime-light on the national scene and faces severe scrutiny and critical appraisal of every move it makes or does not make. It would be relevant and useful to recollect at this juncture the fundamental principles that governed the working of CBI as visualised and carefully nurtured by Kohli.

          Around 1953, D.P. Kohli – an I.P. Officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre  - was appointed Inspector General of Police of the Special Police Establishment (SPE) which was then a small police unit under the Union Home Ministry, meant for enquiring into allegations of corruption in some Central government departments, specially the Defence. He was commissioned to reorganise and structure this unit to function as the premier investigating agency under the Centre, principally to enquire into allegations of corruption in all Central government departments throughout the country and also take up non-corruption cases if they had any special features requiring investigation by a Central agency instead of the State Police.

          Kohli systematically toured all the States, identified police officers of competence and integrity and took them on deputation to the SPE which then started functioning through its branches in each State, besides the specialised units at its headquarters in Delhi. He raised the quality of work by getting all investigations done by Inspectors and Deputy Superintendents, and in some important cases by SPs and DIGs themselves. 

          Kohli also took the unique step of developing a good legal wing within the SPE itself with a hierarchy of competent and dedicated law officers who also functioned as prosecutors when the cases were put in Court. However, to ensure objectivity and independent assessment of evidence he laid down that the legal wing will be headed, not by a law Officer of the SPE itself, but by a senior law officer taken on deputation and periodically rotated from the Ministry of Law. SPE cases were thus subjected to thorough and objective legal scrutiny even at the stage of investigation unlike the police in most States which do not have full-fledged legal wings of their own.

          In 1963 he expanded the structure of SPE to include an Economic Offences Wing, a Central Forensic Science Laboratory and Interpol division. In its expanded form the organisation was formally named Central Bureau of Investigation by a Resolution of the Government of India, adopting the phraseology in item 8 of List I of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

Kohli was extremely careful in taking State police officers on deputation to the CBI. He would make a most rigorous check of the integrity of an officer before taking him. He would keep posts vacant rather than fill them up with officers with unverified reputation. During his term the CBI always carried some unfilled vacancies year after year, but the quality of its work was always top.

          He expected and encouraged officers to express their views and assessment of evidence freely and boldly in the case files. He specially appreciated a thread-bare analysis of all the material in a case and made sure that cases were put in Court only on the basis of strong and acceptable evidence. His own notes and orders on files were always clear, unambiguous, pointed and precise, and would leave no doubt about the further course of action. He had a knack of recording his comments in such  a way that would indicate his having carefully read the entire report of the field officer. This made even the remotest officer in the distant States feel that his report of investigation would have to stand scrutiny by Kohli himself.

He developed some healthy conventions of work within the CBI to guard against extraneous interference with investigations. Every officer was strictly bound not to enquire from his colleagues or others about the progress of any case outside his own line of supervision. Further, if anyone outside the CBI, be it a Minister or Secretary or anyone else in government or outside were to enquire from a CBI officer about the details or progress or possibilities in any specific case, the CBI officer was strictly required to make a record of that enquiry in the relevant file. This convention effectively eliminated unauthorised enquires or interest in the progress of specific cases.

          CBI officers were strictly advised to avoid undue publicity. Emphasis was on quiet efficiency. No publicity was given to any case at the stage of investigation. At the end of investigation if a person was chargesheeted in court, the news was given to the press but even then the name of the accused would not be mentioned. His designation alone would be mentioned. Only when the case finally ended in conviction in Court or punishment for a government servant in departmental action, publicity would be given including the name. By enforcing these norms for publicity, Kohli ensured that no one was subjected to any premature newsreport of a humiliatory or defamatory nature.

          He adopted the same principle in regard to arrests. He laid down that the accused in CBI cases under investigation shall not be arrested unless it was absolutely necessary to prevent their fleeing the country or had to be arrested when they were caught rehanded in a trap and their confessional statements had to be recorded in custody. In the normal course the accused in CBI cases would be summoned by Court for trial after chargesheet was laid by the CBI. It was unfortunate that this policy which stood for several years was reversed in 1977 by Charan Singh when he was Union Home Minister. He was of the strong view that arrests in CBI cases were most necessary to impress on people the government’s determination to root out corruption. Little did he realise then that it is not mere show of action but the ultimate result of action that impresses people. However, it was Kohli’s principle that was adopted by the National Police Commission in 1980 when they recommended some salutary guide-lines for making arrests by the police. The Supreme Court wholly endorsed these guidelines in their oft-quoted judgements in Joginder Kumar’s case(1994) and D.K.Basu’s case(1997). Kohli’s principle stands vindicated now.     

             CBI officers were strictly expected to be above even the slightest shadow of doubt regarding  integrity in all their dealings. One Deputy Superintendent of Police in CBI HQrs., who had indiscreetly got into a situation of obligation to an accused in a case, was ruthlessly prosecuted under Kohli’s orders and got convicted in Court with a heavy sentence of imprisonment.

          He provided the direction and drive for coordinated anti-corruption measures throughout the country by convening biennial conferences of the Chiefs of Anti-Corruption Bureaus from all the States and evolving a consensus on appropriate techniques for tackling the problem of corruption. His single-minded and relentless efforts on this warfront had encouragement and active support from the Union Home Ministers Govind Ballabh Pant and Lal Bahadur Sastri in the 1950’s and 60’s. More importantly, in all his endeavours he had the full administrative backing of L.P. Singh, a dynamic and forward looking Home Secretary who ably steered the Ministry for several years around that time. Singh and Kohli were both members of the Santhanam Committee (1962-64) and largely contributed to its valuable recommendations for prevention of corruption.

        Kohli himself exemplified all the qualities he expected of a CBI officer. He dealt with every situation on its merits without bias or prejudice of any kind whatsover. The motto he gave the CBI was ‘Industry,  Impartiality, Integrity’. These three words are incorporated in the CBI logo, which is printed in all its publications. In a moving farewell letter he wrote to all CBI officers on the eve of his retirement in 1968 he reminded them of this motto and concluded with the exhortation that ‘Loyalty to duty comes first, in all matters, at all times and in all circumstances’.

          The CBI was built brick by brick by Kohli and carefully nurtured to become the premier investigating agency of the country. It acquired a very high reputation for the thoroughness and integrity of all its investigations. All CBI officers worked as a team under the lead of Kohli and genuinely felt they were serving the cause of truth and justice. People also felt that when once a matter was referred to the CBI, truth will be exposed by the CBI, uninfluenced by extraneous considerations of any kind. The Estimates Committee of the Parliament which examined the working of CBI in the late 60’s paid a glorious tribute to it by describing it as the only hope for the country !

           The same CBI is now under severe scrutiny by the people whose expectations are greatly aroused by its past record. The best homage that can be paid to the respected memory of its founder D.P. Kohli is for all CBI officers to function as a well knit team, recollect all that Kohli stood for and implemented in his life-time, and accordingly carry out their tasks and duties by the country.