Independence of CBI

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    29th Oct, 2018
  • A power tussle between top bosses at CBI unfolded into an ugly public spat bringing disrepute to the agency.
  • The feud between the top brass of CBI has reportedly stemmed out of question over who should be appointed as the head of the bureau and who wields how much power.

Issue

Context:

  • A power tussle between top bosses at CBI unfolded into an ugly public spat bringing disrepute to the agency.
  • The feud between the top brass of CBI has reportedly stemmed out of question over who should be appointed as the head of the bureau and who wields how much power.
  • More recently, both, CBI director Alok Verma and Special director Rakesh Asthana have been sent on a leave until the investigation in case of corruption and malpractices inside the CBI comes to conclusion.

About:

  • Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the premier investigative agency in the country today. The agency has been known to investigate several economic crimes, special crimes, cases of corruption and other high-profile cases.
  • The Bureau of Investigation traces its origins to the Special Police Establishment. The Delhi Special Police Establishment Actwas therefore brought into force in 1946. The CBI's power to investigate cases is derived from this Act.
  • In 1963, on the recommendations of Santhanam Committeeand through a resolution passed by the Government of India, the agency acquired the name ‘Central Bureau of Investigation’ and came into formal existence.

Background:

  • CBI is quite familiar with controversies and has its own share of allegations and blemishes in the past. Called as a ‘caged parrot’ by the Supreme court, the agency is infamous for acting on whims and fancies of the ruling government
  • Over the years, disturbing questions have been raised over its functioning, irrespective of the government holding office at the Centre.
  • The autonomy has come under suspicion in the past too when the CBI director Ranjit Sinha had a corruption case against him registered by CBI itself in the coal block allocation case.

Analysis

Factors undermining independence of CBI:

  1. Appointment:
  • The ruling government has often been accused even by the judiciary of appointing higher rank officials including the director of shared political ideologies.
  • Arbitrary appointments often tarnishes autonomous and independent image of CBI as a premier investigative agency.
  • Appointment of Rakesh Asthana as director in the past was made by flouting search committee consultations.
  • Further, agency is dependent on home ministry for providing manpower. Lack of co-ordination between ministry and the bureau has led to severe staff crunch in CBI.
  1. Political tool:
  • CBI has been used a tool for settling political vendetta.
  • Further, political pressure and interference in investigation often corrodes the credibility and reliability of CBI’s functioning
  • The Central Vigilance Commission, which was meant to provide the oversight and support to the CBI, has also failed to give it the desired direction, or insulate it from governmental interference. 
  1. Corruption charges:
  • Top CBI officials including the director have been time and again accused of corruption charges.
  • Cases against CBI director in 2G spectrum and coal block allocation case shows that CBI itself isn’t insulated from corruption
  1. Functioning and administration:
  • CBI is not entrusted with taking up cases suo-moto and instead the government directs the agency upon which cases need to be investigated.
  • As a result it is burdened with a whole pile of cases ranging from murder, rape, economic offences, etc without either the statutory and constitutional back-up to define its role and responsibilities, or the matching manpower and forensic resources.
  • CBI depends on the government for finances and administrative functions. This is a serious hurdle in CBI’s independent functioning.
  1. Conflicts with state government:
  • CBI needs approval of state government for proceeding investigation in a state even if it is against central government employees.
  • Here it faces conflicts with state governments and also doesn’t enjoy co-operation from state police in investigation.
  • CBI acts as per the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which makes it a police agency thus the CBI needs the consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State

Reforms for reinforcing independence of CBI:

  • It was in 1997 that in Vineet Narain vs Union of India case that Supreme Court laid down guidelines to ensure autonomy, impartiality and independence of CBI.
  • A new law governing CBI as suggested by Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee should be enacted to insulate it from political interference and make it independent. A legal framework replacing the outmoded Delhi special police establishment act would make the functioning of CBI and appointments therein more objective and weed out arbitrariness. Similar recommendations have also been made by L.P. Singh committee in the past.
  • Further, an agency as important and critical as CBI should be made accountable to the parliament instead of the government, just like the Comproller and Auditor general. It would thus help in getting rid of the ‘caged parrot’ tag and make the bureau independent.
  • CBI should be provided with a separate and specialised cadre so as to insulate the officials from fear or favour of postings and transfers and of political masters.
  • Standing Committee on Lokpal and Lokayuktas bill, 2014 suggested bringing CBI and CVC under its control so as to shield it from political interference and maintain its freedom in investigations.
  • It was in 2017 that Delhi High court reiterated that CBI is not exempt from RTI (Right to information) act in cases of corruption and human rights. RTI act would strengthen the accountability mechanism within the CBI, thus exposing any kind of nefarious political nexus.

To ensure that the CBI is a robust, independent and credible investigation agency, there is an urgent need to work out a much more transparent mechanism to oversee the appointments and functioning of CBI. Without a strong political will, the CBI cannot be freed from the government’s control and maintain the independence of CBI. It is a matter of common experience that every time there is a sensational case, the popular demand is for a CBI investigation, thus for remaining  a first-class investigating agency and for reviving public trust, independence of CBI is strongly desired. Then only can we have a CBI characterized by “Industry, Impartiality, Integrity".

Learning Aid

Practice question

The recent controversy surrounding a feud between the director and special director within the CBI exposes the flaws in the governance structure of apex investigating agency. Discuss the factors undermining the independence of the CBI and make suggestions to revamp the organisation.

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