Centre spells out measures for CBI autonomy

Retains power to appoint prosecution director

Centre spells out measures for  CBI autonomy

The Centre on Wednesday spelled out before the Supreme Court the Cabinet-approved measures that need to be undertaken to ensure autonomy of the CBI but retained the contentious power of appointment of the prosecution director and a panel of counsel for advising the investigating agency on criminal matters.

In a 41-page affidavit submitted to the apex court, it said that a high-powered committee, consisting of the prime minister, leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India, would finalise and recommend the name for the post of the CBI director.

However, it said that the director of prosecution would be appointed by a selection committee consisting of Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) as its chairman and the Secretary of department of personnel and training, the Home Secretary, Law Secretary as members and CBI director as member-convener of the committee.

This selection committee prepares a panel of names “on the basis of integrity and experience” in advising on criminal matters, particularly anti-corruption cases. Surprisingly, though the move is a departure from the past, the panel does not have independent members giving rise to suspicion that this route of engaging lawyers may not offer neutral counsels.

Notably, giving legal opinions on criminal cases, if the agency should file appeal in High Courts and Supreme Court, has always been a controversial issue.  

In sensitive cases political considerations have played a major role in the past to decide its fate as witnessed in disproportionate assets case of RJD president Lalu Yadav and former UPA chief minister Mulayam Singh’s family members and LK Advani's alleged role in Babri Masjid demolition case.

On the legal opinions given by the Law Ministry, the CBI did not challenge Lalu and former deputy prime minister LK Advani’s acquittal in High Courts in separate cases of acquiring disproportionate assets as well as pulling down the Babri Mosque respectively.  

The affidavit came after the court had on May 8 asked the government to explain the steps it had taken to ensure functional autonomy to the CBI. The court’s order was passed in the backdrop of CBI director’s affidavit that then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, Additional Solicitor General H P Raval and other officials had seen and made changes in the status report filed on March 8 on investigation into the coalgate.

The court had then observed that the CBI behaved as “caged parrot speaking in voice of political masters”. Raval also resigned as he had then maintained that no one had seen the status report.

According to the government’s affidavit, the CVC would continue to have the power of superintendence and administration over the CBI for all cases to be probed under the Prevention of Corruption Act but this power would vest in the Centre for all the remaining cases.

 The commission would prepare a report which would be placed in both the houses of Parliament for consideration and directions. It also submitted that the central government would introduce a Bill in the Parliament containing the necessary amendments in this regard.

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