A caged parrot, as the Supreme Court described the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), takes quite a bit of time to find its wings given its years of confinement.
But a few steps, however inadequate they might seem to many, are being taken to help the beleaguered organisation find its feet. Accusations that the organisation is a puppet in the hands of its political masters of the day and used more to settle political scores than actually conducting impartial investigations are common.
There may be some truth in this and the conduct of the agency, as in the case of the Coalgate scam, has not helped cover itself in glory. The problem has been that at every level the agency has been tied to the coattails of the government, impeding its functioning.
However, the recent affidavit filed by the government to the Supreme Court holds out some hope that the agency may be on the path to some sort of autonomy though genuine freedom is still a very long way away.
The affidavit which has been cleared by a group of ministers headed by finance minister P Chidambaram has sought that the CBI director be appointed by the prime minister, Leader of the Opposition and the chief justice of India. This should ensure some neutrality in the choice of the person to head the premier investigative agency.
The director, as sought by the affidavit, can only be removed by the orders of the president and will hold a term not less than two years. Again, to an extent, this insulates the director from threats of transfers for not falling in line with one or other political outfit.
The person to be selected will be an IPS officer whose experience, seniority and integrity are exemplary. But the sticking points as of now are that the agency will not be able to hire its own lawyers and will have to depend on the government’s legal counsel. The other is that even for minor travel sanctions, it is dependent on permission from the government.
In addition, while changes are being made to free the organisation from government control, it should also be made mandatory that it is called in to investigate only those cases that are beyond the scope of the police and other law-enforcement agencies.
Today, we see that people have so little faith in the law enforcement machinery that a CBI probe is sought for even common and garden crimes. The agency’s investigations should also be time-bound to ensure speedy justice and also to ensure that undue political pressure is not brought to bear on it.
Giving autonomy to the CBI has long been a demand of all political formations, especially those out of power at any period of time. Now that the process has begun, however imperfectly and inadequately, it is in the interest of all political parties to see this to its logical conclusion.