Not enough

The granting of more financial  powers to the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the government is a welcome step, as it shows a slight loosening of its administrative grip over the investigative agency.

The small window of freedom that has been given to it is not only financial but administrative too. The agency can now take decisions on some transfers and postings of some officials without reference to the ministry of personnel which otherwise controls it. The CBI director can also now write directly to the secretary of the ministry in matters of investigation. Earlier the communication  had to be vetted by junior officials before being sent to the secretary. But now, the CBI director will be on par with a secretary.

The greater financial powers will also give more freedom to the director, who can now spend up to Rs 15 crore per year on his discretion. Even minor purchases had to be approved by the ministry till now. The director can spend up to Rs 50 lakh to buy laptops or mobile phones. It comes as a surprise that the country’s top cop did not have the power to make even such purchases and sometimes had to wait for months to get approval to buy a computer or a mobile phone. If the  government has such a tight control over the working of the CBI even in such matters, it is no wonder that it wields substantial power over what the agency does by way of investigation. The CBI has been asking for more financial powers so that its every day work is not affected by bureaucratic delays.

The real change for the CBI should come in the form of functional autonomy which will ensure that the government would not be able to interfere in and influence investigations conducted by the agency. In spite of pressing  public opinion and the Supreme Court taking up the issue, after famously calling the agency a caged parrot, not much has been done to make it effectively independent of the government. Giving a fixed term to the CBI director and separating the investigating and prosecution wings are good proposals which will reduce the government’s control. Incremental progress is fine but it should not be an excuse to delay and scuttle real progress.

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