Madras High Court lays down instruction to overhaul, release 'caged parrot' CBI

Coming out in support for autonomy and independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court...

Coming out in support for autonomy and independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has observed that the Central agency should be made an independent statutory body like the Election Commission or Comptroller and Auditor General of India. 

Recommending that the CBI should only be accountable to Parliament, the two-judge bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi said, “This order is an attempt to release the “caged parrot”.

The bench was referring to the remark made by the Supreme Court in May 2013. While hearing a case related to the coal scam, dubbed Coalgate, during the UPA government, the apex court bench had said the agency was a “caged parrot” speaking in the voice of its political masters.

Inconsiderate of which government is at the Centre, the agency has time and again been the target of attack of Opposition leaders, who have often accused of it being misused by the incumbent government.

West Bengal chief minister and All India Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has recently called it the "Conspiracy Bureau of Investigation controlled by the Prime Minister".

The high court's comment came in the wake of the bench hearing a plea seeking a CBI probe into an alleged ponzi scam in Tamil Nadu to the tune of Rs 300 crore. While it declined to transfer the case to the CBI earlier, given that an investigation by the economics wing was already underway, the bench decided to examine larger issues concerning the “necessity to have more resources and more personnel including modern infrastructures for CBI.”

Origin of CBI

The CBI was established in 1963 by a resolution of the home ministry. It is not a statutory body. The CBI originated from the Special Police Establishment, which was set up by the government of India in 1941.

After World War ended, the need for investigation in matters of corruption was felt and for that, the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was introduced in 1946. Finally through a resolution, by the home ministry, the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act got the name Central Bureau of Investigation.  

The agency reports to the Department of Personnel and Training under the Prime Minister's Office. Its director is chosen by a three-member panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of The Opposition.

What the high court wants to be changed?

As per Bar and Bench, the high court has issued a 12-point instructions to overhaul the current system. They are —

  • The Government of India is directed to consider and take a decision for the enactment of a separate Act giving statutory status with more powers and jurisdiction to CBI at the earliest. The Court observed that it is only when the CBI is given a statutory status, "the autonomy of CBI would be ensured."
  • The CBI shall be made more independent like Election Commission of India and Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
  • A separate budgetary allocation shall be made for CBI.
  • The director of CBI shall be given powers as that of the secretary to the government and shall directly report to the minister/prime minister without going through DoPT. The direction was issued in view of the concern that the CBI lacks sufficient financial and administrative powers.
  • The Central government shall make CBI independent with functional autonomy without administrative control of the government.
  • The Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) shall have more modern facilities and should be augmented on par with the facilities available to Federal Bureau of Investigation in United States of America and Scotland Yard in United Kingdom.
  • The DoPT is directed to pass orders on the CBI restructuring letter dated 9 September, 2020 (for comprehensive cadre review, restructuring of CBI, and for creation of 734 additional posts in different ranks) after consulting with other departments if necessary, within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.
  • The CBI should file a well-thought-out policy within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order, for permanently recruiting (i) Cyber Forensic experts and (ii) Financial Audit experts, so that all the branches/wings of CBI should have these experts available with them and not on case to case basis.
  • The DoPT should clear all the pending proposals pertaining to CBI's infrastructure development, for instance, land construction, residential accommodation, upgradation of available technical gadgets etc, within a period of six weeks.
  • CFSL attached to CBI should clear all the pending cases as on December 31, 2020. Similarly, other FSLs should also offer their forensic opinion pending as on 31 December, 2020 within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order. The directions issued in respect of CFSL were passed in view of the CBI's submission that a reason for the long pendency of cases is due to the huge pendency in CFSL, which results in delays in receiving the opinion of experts on forensic examination of exhibits. In its order, the Court also urged the Centre to establish at least one CFSL in each zone of the country (south, north, east, west) within a year.
  • The details of cases wherein charges have not been framed by trial courts despite the charge sheets having been filed by CBI for more than one year, should be shared by director, CBI with the respective registrar generals of the high courts.
  • Since the CBI itself has stated in a reply that CBI has to work within the constraints of shortage of manpower, director, CBI should send another detailed proposal seeking a further increase in the divisions/wings, as well as strength of officers in CBI to the government of India, within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order. The government of India should pass orders on the same within a period of three months of its receipt.

What necessitated the instructions

The high court bench observed that “There is always a clamour for CBI investigation. Whenever any sensitive, heinous crimes are committed and there is no proper investigation by local police, there is a demand for CBI investigation. Such demands for CBI investigation are seemingly increasing these days due to the credibility of the investigation agency.”

“When such is the trust and faith of the people, very sadly CBI is dragging its feet, whenever there is a demand for CBI inquiry, on the ground that resources and manpower available with it are restricted and therefore, it cannot conduct investigations. This is the usual stereotypical defence of CBI before courts,” observed the judges.

The judges made the suggestions after their perusal of the detailed report filed on the queries raised by the court regarding the resources, manpower, investigating skills, infrastructural facilities, stage of cases investigated by CBI, the judges took note of the fact that CBI was functioning with several restraints such as lack of manpower, funds and facilities at CFSL.

With inputs from agencies

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