All powerful CBI chief without checks risky: Centre to SC
Setting the stage for a standoff in the Supreme Court on the autonomy issue, an assertive Centre today junked CBI's stand for more power for its Director with a minimum three-year term, saying an all powerful Chief without checks and balances entails the risk of "potential misuse".
Rejecting CBI's opposition for an Accountability Commission for the agency, the Centre in an affidavit also said that the need for an "external, independent and strong watchdog is imperative".
The Department of Personnel and Training(DoPT) also took a tough stand on CBI's plea for an independent committee headed by CVC to grant sanction for prosecution of senior bureaucrats and insisted on retaining such powers.
The government stand raises questions on its assurance of ensuring autonomy given to the Supreme Court which had described CBI as a "caged parrot" that has to be insulated from interference by political executives and external influences.
"An all powerful Director CBI without adequate checks and balances would not be consonant with settled Constitutional principles and would always carry the risk of potential misuse and may not be conducive to fearless and independent functioning of the organisation at all levels. Therefore, averments of CBI are not agreed with," the 22-page affidavit said.
The issue of CBI's autonomy had cropped up in the wake of of the agnecy sharing its probe report on Coalgate with the political executive.
The apex court, which is monitoring investigation, will scrutinise the stand taken by both the CBI and the Centre on August 6 during hearing of the PIL filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma on the issue.
While opposing the CBI's claim for giving complete disciplinary control over its Group A officers to its Director, the Centre said "it is not desirable to create new precedence which would create heartburn and dissension in similarly placed organisations".
"Vesting complete disciplinary control of Group A officers with the Director would not only be against the law but also be against settled principles of administration wherein safeguards have been provided to officers so that they work without fear or favour," the Centre said.
Strongly pleading for a watchdog over the working of the CBI, the Centre submitted that such mechanism is necessary as the agency outside the purview of RTI and "authority without accountability will be draconian".
"It is submitted that autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. Government is duty bound to protect its citizens against misuse of power and arbitrary action by any institution. Authority without accountability will be draconian," it said.
The Centre submitted that internal vigilance mechanism of CBI would not be able to deliver on the complaints against its officials as the CVO of CBI is a full time employee of the agency and may not be in a position to question the Director on potential acts of ommission and commission.
"Instances of complaints with regard to manner of investigatiion do surface for which there is no forum for redressal by the affected citizenry. Therefor the need for an external, independent and strong watchdog is imperative," the Centre said adding "an external body will instill discipline in CBI."
"There have been instances in the past where allegations of extortion and bribery leading to coloured investigation have emerged against some CBI officials. An external Accountability Commission would only help in furthering the integrity of investigation," it said.
The Centre also opposed the plea of CBI seeking three-year minimum tenure for its director and the proposal that only a person who has served in the agency at supervisory level be appointed to head it.
"In any case this minimum tenure of two years would not be an impediment to the long term perspective of the organisation. It does not preclude a longer term if necessary. Tenures of all senior strategic positions in Governemnt of India are on similar lines," the Centre said.
On the issue of sanction, the Centre said that there is no need for setting up a commiittee as the administrative Ministry has the best domain knowledge to take a clear view on the involvement of an officer in any given set of circumstances.
"A committee of external agencies would have to depend, in any case, on the inputs from the ministry. Moreover, committee system will add one more layer of decision making and is likely to cause more delay. Therefore it is the administrative ministry which is in the best position for according approval for investigation or enquiry within the shortest possible time," it said.
The government also opposed CBI's plea for wanting autonomy in appointing a panel of Special counsel without it's approval saying "any overriding powers of the Director over prosecution would compromise the impartiality".