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What lies behind CBI autonomy?

It was P V Narasimha Rao who cynically used the CBI to embroil his rivals within the Congress party in the Hawala case. Since the Hawala case, an entire generation of judges has been pressing the idea of laying down what CBI can and cannot do. The Hawala case ruling prompted a new Central Vigilance Commission regime and for a while, it appeared, that a heavy blow had been struck against corruption among the public servants. But that was not to be so. It is unfortunate indeed that since mid-1990s, there has been no central government strong enough nor a Prime Minister so assured of the support of his own party and coalition partners that he would protest against encroachment of the executive’s prerogative. Judicial interventions have only encouraged a plethora of PILs to make a nuisance of itself at the behest of corporate rivals. 

Now bowing under pressure from the Supreme Court, the present government has begun the process of framing a law to grant independence to the CBI. The apex court has directed the government to frame a law granting an independent status to the CBI. The department of Personnel and training (DoPT) has been working on a bill, to bring desired changes in the CBI’s rules and regulations. The DoPT and CBI officials have been working on various administrative and regulative matters and they are firm on making the CBI’s investigations completely independent and free from political interference. The catch is that the administrative supervision, including postings, transfers, promotions and issues relating to officials will remain with the DoPT. Government will be responsible for answering to MPs in Parliament on questions regarding the CBI. Howsoever damning may be the Supreme Court’s observations, the power to frame laws will always remain with the Executive.  

The CBI traces its origin to the Special Police Establishment which was set up in 1941 by the Government of India. The functions of SPE were to investigate cases of bribery and corruption in transactions with the War and supply department of India, which was setup during the course of World War II, with its headquarters in Lahore. Even after end of the war, the need for a Central Government Agency to investigate cases of bribery and corruption by Central Government was felt. The scope of the SPE was enlarged to cover all departments of the government of India. Sardar Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of free India and in charge of the Home department took special interest in weeding out corruption from erstwhile princely states like Jodhpur, Rewa, Tonk etc. Sardar Patel directed the Legal Advisor, Karam Chand Jain, to monitor criminal proceedings against Dewans and Chief Ministers of these states. As the CBI, over the years, established a reputation of being India’s premier investigation agency with adequate resources to deal with complicated cases, demands were made to take up investigation of more cases of conventional crimes such as murder, kidnapping, terrorism etc. 

Apart from this, the Supreme Court and even various High Courts of the country also started entrusting such cases for investigation to the CBI on petitions filed by aggrieved parties. Taking into account the fact that several cases falling under this category were taken up for investigation by the CBI, it was found expedient to entrust such cases to the branches having local jurisdiction. It was therefore decided in 1987 to constitute two investigation divisions in the CBI, namely, Anti-Corruption Division and Special Crimes Division, the later dealing with cases of conventional crime, besides economic offences. 

The CBI reports to the government of India and not to any the individual states.  The founder director of the CBI, D P Kohli, was a visionary who saw in the Special Police Establishment the potential of growing into the national investigative agency. He nurtured the organisation during his long stint as Inspector General and as Director laid solid foundation on which the organization grew over decades to become what it is today. IPA
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