CBI Autonomy and CVC- Issues in News

CBI Autonomy and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is a much-debated topic today. In this issue of IIN, we discuss this issue. This topic is regularly seen in the news and hence, is important for the UPSC exam. Read our Issues in News segment for insights into topics that make headlines and are important for the IAS exam.

Why in news?

The present crisis started, when the central government divested the powers of the CBI director Alok Verma and appointed Nageshwar Rao to take over as interim chief of CBI.

The Supreme Court ordered Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its ongoing inquiry against exiled CBI Director Alok Verma so that the CBI’s reputation is not at stake. The CVC inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of Former Apex Court judge, Justice A.K.Patnaik.

About CBI

The CBI was established as the Special Police Establishment in 1941, to enquire into cases of corruption in the procurement during the Second World War.

With time the Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption recommends the establishment of CBI. The CBI was then established by a resolution of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry of Personnel eventually took over the responsibility of CBI and now it plays the role of an attached office.

The CBI is the premier investigating agency of the Central Government.  It is not a statutory body; it derives its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946.

The important role of CBI is prevention of corruption and maintaining integrity in administration. It works under the overall supervision of Central Vigilance Commission in matters related to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

The CVC act provides for a security of two year tenure in office for CBI Director.  The CVC Act also provides the mechanism for the selection of the Director of CBI and other officers of the rank of SP and above in the CBI.

Central government appoints The CBI director based on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the Central Vigilance Commissioner as Chairperson, the Vigilance Commissioners, the Secretary to the Government of India in-charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Secretary (Coordination and Public Grievances) in the Cabinet Secretariat.

Section 4B(2) of the DSPE Act lays down guidelines for removal of CBI Director, which mandates that the CBI Director cannot be “transferred” without the previous consent of a high-power committee chaired by the Prime Minister.

All the major crimes in the country having National and International ramifications will be investigated by CBI. It is also involved in collection of criminal intelligence pertaining to three of its main areas of operation, viz., Special Crimes, Economic Crimes and Anti-Corruption

The following broad categories of criminal cases are handled by the CBI:

  1. Cases of corruption and fraud committed by public servants of all Central Govt. Departments, Central Public Sector Undertakings and Central Financial Institutions.
  2. Economic crimes, including bank frauds, financial frauds, Import Export & Foreign Exchange violations, large-scale smuggling of narcotics, antiques, cultural property and smuggling of other contraband items etc.
  3. Special Crimes, such as cases of terrorism, bomb blasts, sensational homicides, kidnapping for ransom and crimes committed by the mafia/the underworld.

Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)

In 1964 CVC was established with the aim of addressing corrupt practices within the government.

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) works in coordination with the government authorities for the betterment of the system.

It must be noted that Central Vigilance Commission is not an investigating agency. It operates in coalition with the Departmental Chief Vigilance Officers or CBI. Investigating Civil Works of the government through the Chief Technical Officer is the only search that Central Vigilance Commission conducts.

All the investigations into corruption cases against government officials has to be approved by the government. The Central Vigilance Commission also publishes list of corrupt officials and recommends punitive action against them.

Functions and powers of Central Vigilance Commission

  • To exercise superintendence over the functioning of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) with respect to investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; or offence under CRPC for certain categories of public servants and to give directions to the DSPE for purpose of discharging this responsibility;
  • To review the progress of investigations conducted by the DSPE into offences alleged to have been committed under the PC Act;
  • To undertake an inquiry or cause an inquiry or investigation to be made into any transaction in which a public servant working in any organisation, to which the executive control of the Government of India extends, is suspected or alleged to have acted for an improper purpose or in a corrupt manner;
  • To tender independent and impartial advice to the disciplinary and other authorities in disciplinary cases, involving vigilance angle at different stages i.e. investigation, inquiry, appeal, review etc.;
  • To exercise a general check and supervision over vigilance and anti-corruption work in Ministries or Departments of the Govt. of India and other organisations to which the executive power of the Union extends; and
  • To chair the Committee for selection of Director (CBI), Director (Enforcement Directorate) and officers of the level of SP and above in DSPE.
  • To undertake or cause an inquiry into complaints received under the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informer and recommend appropriate action.

Problems associated with CBI:

  • The agency is dependent on the home ministry for staffing, since many of its investigators come from the Indian Police Service. The agency depends on the law ministry for lawyers and also lacks functional autonomy to some extent.
  • The CBI, run by IPS officers on deputation, is also susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers, because they are dependent on the Central government for future postings.
  • Since police is a State subject under the Constitution, and the CBI acts as per the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which makes it a police agency, the CBI needs the consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State. This can lead to certain cases not being investigated and seeing a silent deadlock.
  • CBI which handles cases which are of national importance has been criticised for its mishandling of several scams due to political pressure. It has also been criticized for interfering in the investigation of prominent politicians, such as P. V. Narasimha Rao, Jayalalithaa, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav; this tactic leads to their acquittal or non-prosecution. Some of the examples in which CBI was misused are Bofors scandal, Hawala scandal, 2G spectrum scam, coal scam, etc.

CBI Autonomy

In the Coalgate scam case the SC raised the question of CBI’s independence and said that “The CBI has become the state’s parrot. Only screaming, repeating the master’s voice” The SC had then asked the Centre to make the CBI impartial and said it needs to be ensured that the CBI functions free of all external pressures.

SC over CBI’s autonomy: In the Vineet Narain case, 1997 The Supreme Court agreed that the CBI had failed in its responsibility to investigate allegations of public corruption.  It laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI and ordered that the CBI be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an independent governmental agency intended to be free from executive control or interference. 

The Supreme Court gave following directions:

  1. The CVC should be given statutory status and be entrusted with responsibility to supervise the work of the CBI ensuring its efficiency and impartiality;
  2. Its head be selected by a team of the prime minister, home minister and leader of the opposition in Parliament from a panel of eminent people and the CBI director be appointed for a minimum tenure of two years by a committee headed by the CVC including the union home secretary and the secretary, personnel;
  3. A report on the activities of the CBI be submitted in three months;
  4. A nodal agency be set up for dealing with the emerging political-criminal-bureaucratic nexus;
  5. A directorate of prosecution be set up

Except for giving CVC a statutory status Government has taken less interest in implementing the other recommendations.

Financial independence

Financial independence is key for functioning of any organisation. So the government has given CBI Director the rank of a Government Secretary with more financial autonomy. The director of CBI would be able to make expenditure upto Rs 15crore while the amount was very negligible previously.  It would be able to employ private consultants and also make advance payments up to 80% of the full disbursement to a government agency without running to the administrative ministry. So with increased money for its disposal the agency need not have to depend on approvals. However the full autonomy that CBI requested for is not sanctioned by the Government.

CBI and RTI

CBI is placed in the second schedule section 24 of RTI act. Sec 24 states that ‘act not to apply to certain organizations’. It provides exception to obtaining information from intelligence and security organisations specified in the second schedule to the RTI act or any information furnished by them to the government. We have discussed this issue in an RSTV article, please click below for more.

CBI, IB, NIA Under RTI? RSTV – The Big Picture

 International ramification

Central Bureau of Investigation is the representative of this country for the purposes of correspondence with the INTERPOL. To deal with this work, a Wing designated as “Interpol Wing” has been created in the Co-ordination Division of the Central Bureau of Investigation. All the State Police forces and other law enforcement agencies in India have a link through Interpol New Delhi to their counterparts in other member countries. So any attempt to dilute the power of CBI will have serious International ramifications as its stature and Prestige would also be under question due to its strong political and corruption tag attached to it.

What needs to be done?

  • The first measure is to make sure that CBI operates under a formal, legal framework in the lines of contemporary investigative agencies. In order to ensure autonomy of CBI a new CBI Act should be promulgated giving it a statutory backing.
  • The Lokpal Act prescribes for a three-member committee comprising of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice of the Supreme Court to select the director. Even after Lokpal act political interference has been the main hurdle in the working of the CBI. In order to rectify, a new Act should be promulgated and it must specify criminal culpability for government interference.
  • CBI should develop its own dedicated cadre of officers who are not bothered about deputation and abrupt transfers. But all senior posts in the CBI are now held by Indian Police Service (IPS) officers.
  • Along the lines of Comptroller and Auditor General, CBI should be made to be accountable to Parliament. A more efficient parliamentary oversight over the CBI could be a way forward to ensure better accountability, despite concerns regarding political misuse of the oversight.
  • The CBI should recruit its officers along the lines of UPSC exam. This makes a case for a fresh look at the service conditions for direct recruitment to the CBI.

Conclusion:

L.P. Singh Committee in 1978 and a Parliamentary standing committee in 2008 recommended the “enactment of a comprehensive central legislation to remedy the issue of autonomy. Government has to take in to consideration these recommendations.

A  Parliamentary law for the autonomy, powers, etc. is the first step towards improving the CBI’s autonomy.

CBI is an agency of Central Government, it was formed with a dual responsibility to investigate grievous cases and provide leadership and direction in fighting corruption to the Police force across the country.

Agencies like CIA and FBI in USA are run exceptionally well by the government with a great autonomy so the goal of reforms should be to make CBI more autonomous in nature like CIA and FBI. Greater Political will is required to achieve it which should also keep in mind that it will not deprive them of accountability.

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