It already has a lot of functional autonomy, says Centre

The Centre on Tuesday strongly opposed in the Supreme Court the CBI’s request for granting its Director ex-officio powers of Secretary, Government of India, saying it would have serious repercussions on other authorities in the country.

Making this submission before a three-judge Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph, Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran said the government was not agreeable to this. The CBI had already been conferred a lot of functional autonomy and vesting Secretary-level powers would go against the spirit of Vineet Narain judgment. He also said the present arrangement had various checks and balances. Moreover it would set a wrong precedent as there would be similar requests from RAW, Border Security Force and CRPF.

Senior counsel Amrendra Sharan, appearing for the CBI, said, “All [Central] governments, be it NDA or the UPA, wanted to control the CBI. The effort is to keep the control and stronghold over the CBI. The Secretary-level powers will only help us to bypass the red-tapism and attain functional efficacy. We are accountable to the court and the government.”

“Hurdles at every stage”

Justifying the demand, he said there had been occasions when well-thought-out proposals given by the CBI were returned by desk officers. He gave an example of the request seeking the appointment of 22 public prosecutors which was yet to be cleared. “Functional efficacy is of utmost importance. What is requested is that the Director be permitted to report to the Minister and not through the bureaucracy.” He told the court that the agency faced hurdles at every stage in its administrative functioning and it needed freedom from government control.

The government had already rejected most of CBI’s demands for making it an autonomous agency, contending that “authority without accountability will be draconian,” particularly for the investigation agency which, like the police, had the power to arrest, seize and raid, besides keeping the accused in confinement. It said: “In fact, there have been instances in the past where allegations of extortion and bribery leading to coloured investigation have emerged against some CBI officials. The government had also rejected the CBI’s proposals for a three-year assured tenure for its Director, instead of two years, and an independent authority for according sanction to investigate and prosecute accused officials. The present two-year tenure was in line with the assured terms for top government functionaries and the Supreme Court order in the Vineet Narain case.

On May 8, the Bench in its order said: “The Director, CBI, shall henceforth ensure that the secrecy of the inquiries and investigations into allocation of coal blocks is maintained and no access of any nature whatsoever in this regard is provided to any person or authority, including any Minister of the Central Cabinet, Law Officers, Advocate(s) of CBI, Director of Prosecution and officials/officers of the Central govt.”

Order modified

On Tuesday, the Bench modified this order and permitted in-house prosecutors of the CBI and senior counsel Amarendra Saran to assist the investigating team in the preparation of the status report. The Bench also permitted the CBI to include one more officer in the team of 39 officers to make it a team of 40 investigating officers.

The Bench suggested appointing a senior advocate as amicus curiae to assist the court in conducting the proceedings in this case. CBI counsel Mr. Saran and petitioner Mr. Sharma opposed this. Counsel Prashant Bhushan welcomed the suggestion. However, the Bench said this issue would be considered on the next date of hearing on November 26. The Bench asked the CBI to file its next status report as on December 31, 2013, on January 10, 2014 and said the case would be listed on January 15, 2014.

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