The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the premier investigative agency in India. It was initially set up to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption by the employees of the central government. Subsequently, the scope of the agency was expanded to include cases relating to breach of central government laws, frauds in government departments and companies, and other serious crimes.
CBI currently has three primary wings, namely the Anti-Corruption Wing, Economic Offences Wing and the Special Crimes Wing. Historically, the CBI has been marred by political interference. A sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India famously remarked in 2013 that CBI is a “caged parrot” speaking in “its master’s voice”, in reference to the political interference in CBI’s functioning.
Recently, in a writ petition seeking a CBI investigation in to a particular matter, the CBI submitted before the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court that it lacks the required manpower and resources to investigate all cases that are sought to be referred to the CBI. In light of this submission, the Madras High Court raised certain queries regarding the functioning of the CBI, its recruitment, infrastructure, active case load, delays, and also its independence.
The CBI has had only a marginal increase in its ranks since the calendar year 2000 and specifically no increase in the number of officials working for CBI since 2015.
Further, as per CBI’s own submissions, investigations are also delayed due to huge pendency of cases at Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), which leads to the delayed forensic examination of evidence.
In dealing with the matter, the Madras High Court, on August 17, 2021, issued its order in Ramanathapuram District Pathikkapattor Sangam v. State of Tamil Nadu (2021 SCC OnLine Mad 2927), terming it as an “attempt to release the “Caged Parrot””. The High Court has noted that it is important that a premier investigative agency like the CBI be independent for its investigations to be impartial, neutral and credible.
The Madras High Court has noted that the autonomy of the CBI can be ensured only if CBI is made an independent statutory authority outside the control of the Central Government. While noting that the CBI should have autonomy such that it is only accountable to the Parliament, the High Court has given certain directions for ensuring CBI’s independence and improving its capabilities.
The Government has been directed to consider and take a decision to enact a statute giving more power and jurisdiction to CBI at the earliest. The High Court has also directed that CBI be given complete financial independence by allocation of a separate budget without any administrative control of the Government. Other directions in this respect include the CBI Director being given powers as that of the Secretary to the Government and directly reporting to the relevant minister or the Prime Minister without having to go through the Department of Personnel and Training.
The High Court has also ordered the Government to enhance the infrastructural facilities available with CFSL by either improving the facilities at the current CFSL or by establishing at least one CFSL, as part of CBI, for each of the four zones of the country. The High Court has ordered that CFSL’s facilities be modernised and augmented on par with the facilities available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the USA and Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom.
The Government has also been ordered to come up with a policy for the hiring of forensic and other experts to ensure that CBI has access to such experts at all times and not on a case to case basis. Further, the Government has been ordered to clear all proposals regarding CBI’s infrastructural developments (like land construction, residential accommodation, upgradation of available technical gadgets, etc.) within a period of six weeks of the date of the order. In addition to the above, the CBI and the Government have been ordered to work together and increase the strength of the CBI and restructure the CBI, to increase its capabilities. Directions have also been issued to reduce the pendency of cases at CFSL and other forensic laboratories.
The High Court also ordered that it be updated in six weeks, with respect to compliance of the directions issued by it.
The recent controversies surrounding the CBI had significantly eroded the public trust in the functioning and independence of a premier and important institution like the CBI and this judgment of the Madras High Court is a move in the right direction to rebuild this trust and truly improve the functioning and independence of the CBI.
However, while directions have been issued in the past as well, by the Supreme Court regarding CBI’s independence (in Vineet Narain v. Union of India, (1998) 1 SCC 226); whether such directions have been implemented in spirit and have improved the independence and functioning of the CBI, remains debatable. It remains to be seen how the Government will implement the new directions issued by the Madras High Court and how this will improve the functioning of the CBI.
This article was originally published in ET Government on 4 October 2021 Co-written by: Alina Arora, Partner; Apurva Zutshi, Principal Associate; Noaman Mujahed, Associate. Click here for original article
Contributed by: Alina Arora, Partner; Apurva Zutshi, Principal Associate; Noaman Mujahed, Associate
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