GoM likely to suggest panel of retired SC judges to examine complaints against investigating agency

Helped by the Supreme Court, the CBI may finally get its long overdue autonomy.

A Group of Ministers (GoM), looking at a new framework of autonomy for the CBI, is likely to suggest that a three-member committee of retired Supreme Court judges act as an independent ombudsman to examine complaints against the premier investigating agency. The panel is aimed at insulating the CBI’s probe from external influence and may also oversee its investigation in certain circumstances.

The GoM, headed by Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, is also said to have agreed to a CBI suggestion that sanction to question officials above the rank of Joint Secretary be examined only by a committee of secretaries, which will have the Central Vigilance Commissioner as its member. It will give a decision within 90 days. The committee will include the Secretary (Personnel) and the Secretary of the ministry concerned, highly places sources told The Hindu.

Earlier, the matter was first examined by the minister concerned and, after his refusal, came to the committee of secretaries. This long-winded process delayed matters inordinately. Now ministers will be kept out of it, and the committee of secretaries will directly deal with it and decide within 90 days.

These and some other suggestions will form part of a package to be cleared by the Cabinet this week. It will then be presented to the Supreme Court on July 3 as part of an affidavit from the Union government. The court will further hear the matter on July 10. The package will reiterate the government’s commitment to put in place a broad-based and bipartisan mechanism for appointing CBI Director through a collegium, which is likely to consist of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

The GoM, constituted by the Prime Minister to consider an appropriate law to provide for the CBI’s independence and functional autonomy, has also agreed to increase the financial powers of the CBI Director on a par with those of the heads of the Central police organisations, one of the key demands of the CBI, the sources said.

“We have decided and that is fundamental principle of the Constitution that there should be no interference of government or any other agency in the probe carried out the CBI or any other agency. We are committed to that. We feel that there should be accountability along with autonomy,” Law Minister Kapil Sibal said here on Monday after the GoM’s last meeting.

The GoM includes External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy. It is not inclined to make drastic recommendations, which may alter the functioning of the CBI, the sources indicated.

Scathing indictment

The GoM was set up following the Supreme Court’s scathing indictment in May of the CBI for being a “caged parrot” of its political masters. It made the remarks while hearing a case of alleged irregularities in coal blocks allocation at throwaway prices.

The court asked the government to try to come out with a law to insulate the CBI from external influence.

Clearly, the court was not satisfied with the way the government had gone about implementing its directives given way back in 1997 in the Vineet Narain case on insulating the CBI from political interference.

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