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Autonomy of CBI

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 18, Nov 2021
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The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the CBI is an “autonomous body” and it has no ‘control’ over the investigative agency.

What’s the issue?

  • The response came while objecting to a suit filed by the West Bengal Government making the Union of India, and not the CBI, party.
  • West Bengal has, in the case, challenged the CBI’s jurisdiction to register FIRs and conduct investigations in the State in myriad cases. The State had withdrawn its “general consent” to the CBI way back in 2018.

Observations made by the Centre:

  • CBI operates under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE), and it also derives its authority to register cases under the same law. The Union of India has nothing to do with it.
  • It is the central vigilance commission (CVC) which has been tasked with superintendence over CBI, and the CVC Act makes it clear that there cannot be any interference with the investigations conducted by the agency.

Challenges associated with the autonomy of CBI:

  1. The agency is dependent on the home ministry for staffing, since many of its investigators come from the Indian Police Service.
  2. The agency depends on the law ministry for lawyers and also lacks functional autonomy to some extent.
  3. The CBI, run by IPS officers on deputation, is also susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers, because they are dependent on the Central government for future postings.
  4. Dependence on State governments for invoking its authority to investigate cases in a State, even when such investigation targets a Central government employee.
  5. Since police is a State subject under the Constitution, and the CBI acts as per the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which makes it a police agency, the CBI needs the consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State. This is a cumbersome procedure and has led to some ridiculous situations.

SC over CBI’s autonomy:

The landmark judgment in Vineet Narain v. Union of India in 1997 laid out several steps to secure the autonomy of CBI.

Why was it called caged parrot by the Supreme Court?

  1. Politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been a work in progress for years.
  2. Corruption and Politically biased: This was highlighted in Supreme Court criticism for being a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice.
  3. CBI has been accused of becoming ‘handmaiden’ to the party in power, as a result high profile cases are not treated seriously.
  4. Since CBI is run by central police officials on deputation hence chances of getting influenced by government was visible in the hope of better future postings.

What institutional reforms are needed?

  1. Ensure that CBI operates under a formal, modern legal framework that has been written for a contemporary investigative agency.
  2. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) suggested that a new law should be enacted to govern the working of the CBI.
  3. Parliamentary standing committee (2007) recommended that a separate act should be promulgated in tune with requirement with time to ensure credibility and impartiality.
  4. The 19th and 24th reports of the parliamentary standing committees (2007 and 2008) recommended that the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources.
  5. The government must ensure financial autonomy for the outfit.
  6. It is also possible to consider granting the CBI and other federal investigation agencies the kind of autonomy that the Comptroller and Auditor General enjoys as he is only accountable to Parliament.
  7. A new CBI Act should be promulgated that ensures the autonomy of CBI while at the same time improving the quality of supervision. The new Act must specify criminal culpability for government interference.
  8. One of the demands that has been before Supreme Court, and in line with international best practices, is for the CBI to develop its own dedicated cadre of officers who are not bothered about deputation and abrupt transfers.
  9. A more efficient parliamentary oversight over the federal criminal and intelligence agencies could be a way forward to ensure better accountability, despite concerns regarding political misuse of the oversight.