Autonomy for CBI is cosmetic, govt may fail to satisfy SC

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New Delhi, June 28: Will the changes proposed by the government to give autonomy to the CBI satisfy the Supreme Court? The proposals are cosmetic and may not instill confidence that the CBI would be able to carry out investigations without looking over its shoulder for a cue from the political masters.

The government is bound to file an affidavit by July 3 on the measures it will undertake to free the crime fighting agency from the government control.

Some of the changes approved by the government yesterday are: a proposal to set up a panel of retired judges to oversee the investigations of CBI. CBI Director should be selected through a collegium, more financial powers to the director and a new mechanism for the appointment to the crucial post of the Director (Prosecution) who is at present a Law Ministry appointee.

The panel of retired judges will be an "external oversight body" to look into the internal functions of the investigation agency. The CBI will continue to report to courts about its investigations. The proposed panel of judges will not look into cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and these will only be monitored by the CVC as is the case now.

The judges panel could turn out to be another hurdle in the smooth functioning of the agency. The judges panel could be to satisfy the Supreme Court as the apex court has been very critical of investigating officials.

The government will be reiterating in the affidavit the bill passed in the Lok Sabha that allows selection of the CBI Director by a collegium of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

The cabinet had yesterday cleared the recommendations made by a Group of Ministers (GoM) chaired by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and comprising of Law and Justice Minister Kapil Sibal, Home Minister Sushi Kumar Shinde, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy.

The genesis of autonomy debate

The government's action is in response to the SC's remarks in the coal gate case. The Supreme Court had called the CBI "a caged parrot" that "speaks in its master's voice. This remark was made after the investigating agency admitted in an affidavit that Ashwani Kumar, who quit as the Law Minister, and senior officials of the Prime Minister's Office and the coal ministry had made certain changes in the probe status report on the allocation of coal blocks.

The case is being monitored by the apex court and the status reports were to be submitted to the court.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) V Narayanasamy today said the government has given more powers to the CBI following the court's observation that there was a need to give greater autonomy to the agency.

"Supreme Court's observation to give investigational autonomy to CBI has been agreed by GoM. Government has given more powers to the CBI," Narayanasamy told media in New Delhi. "We have prepared an affidavit which will be submitted before the Supreme Court, and thereafter, in Parliament," he said.

With PTI inputs

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