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Central Bureau of Investigation

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 05, Apr 2022
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Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana calls for immediate need for the creation of an independent umbrella institution, so as to bring various central agencies like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office under one roof.

Need for such an umbrella institution:

  • Lack of credibility: Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), ED and other central government investigating agencies had come under deep public scrutiny. Its actions and inactions had raised questions regarding its credibility.
  • To uphold democratic values: All the institutions including the police and the investigative bodies uphold and strengthen the democratic values,” he said.
    • The police and the probe agencies need to function within democratic framework as prescribed under the Constitution. Any deviation will hurt the institutions and will weaken our democracy.
    • The police and the investigative agencies may have de-facto legitimacy, but yet, as institutions, they still have to gain social legitimacy.
  • To ensure legislative oversight: The umbrella body, if created under a statute, clearly defining its powers, functions and jurisdictions, will ensure parliament upholds effective accountability of these institutions.
  • To end multiplicity of proceedings: A single incident gets investigated by multiple agencies, often leading to dilution of evidence, contradiction indepositions, prolonged incarceration of innocents.
  • Ensure collaboration: The umbrella body will ensure a harmonious relationship between the State and Central agencies, given that the goal of all those organisations was to secure justice.
  • To ensure adequate representation of women in the criminal justice system

Proposed structure of the institution:

  • Independent head: The proposed umbrella body should be headed by an independent and impartial authority, appointed by a committee akin to the one which appointed the CBI Director. Its head could be assisted by deputies having specialisation in different domains.
  • Statutory backing: The body should be created under a statute, clearly defining its powers, functions and jurisdictions.
  • Directions: Once an incident is reported, the organisation should decide as to which specialised wing should take up investigation.
  • Separation of prosecution and investigation wings: was to have separate and autonomous wings for prosecution and investigation, to ensure total independence.
  • Annual audit: A reasonable check and balance would be a provision in the proposed law for annual audit of the institution’s performance by the appointing committee.
  • Replication by states: Since, the police and public order under the State list, State agencies must be equipped to deal with increasing challenges in the field of investigation. The proposed Central law for the umbrella investigative body, can be suitably replicated by the States.

What is CBI?

  • Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the premier investigating police agency in India.
  • It functions under the superintendence of the of Personnel, Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Public Grievances, Government of India – which falls under the prime minister’s office.
  • For investigations of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, its superintendence vests with the Central Vigilance Commission.
  • It coordinates on behalf of India with Interpol Member countries.
  • Its conviction rate is as high as 65 to 70% and it is comparable to the best investigation agencies in the world.

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 were visible in the hope of better future postings.

What institutional reforms are needed for CBI?

  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 requirements 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. 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.