A telegram sent at the end of the nineteenth century by a British Raj official was all it took to set up what is now India’s premier internal intelligence agency, Intelligence Bureau (IB).
This information accessed under the RTI Act shows the agency is standing on thin legal ground like Central Bureau of Investigation, which was declared invalid by a Gauhati High Court order that was later stayed by the Supreme Court. The Gauhati ruling had triggered a crisis because many under trials in high-profile cases took refuge under it and sought immunity from CBI proceedings.
In response to a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Supreme Court by major general VK Singh (retired), union ministry of home affairs has admitted that there was no executive order or an Act of Parliament that created the IB.
Instead, the information revealed, that a telegram from then British secretary of state helped create the agency.
“The IB was formally constituted after Her Majesty’s secretary of state for India gave consent through a telegram dated December 31, 1887,” the MHA’s reply stated.
The telegram came in response to a proposal from the then viceroy Lord Dufferin who wanted an agency to improve the “means of obtaining secret and political intelligence”.
Lord Dufferin chose a superintendent of police in charge of controlling criminal activities by “thugees and dacoits” to take over the nascent IB.
Questions about the legal foundations of India’s intelligence agencies have been raised on several occasions by many people including the minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari. As an MP he authored a research paper pointing out several legal infirmities in the creation of these agencies.
But the MHA’s misleading replies to Maj Gen Singh’s specific questions are intriguing. On a specific query about the IB’s accountability to Parliament, it states the “director IB is also subjected to parliamentary oversight in the sense that (he) has to appear before the Parliamentary consultative committee”.
While the consultative committee can summon anyone, Congress MP Mahabal Mishra, a permanent special invitee, told HT that he has never seen the director IB in the past three years.
“He may have come when I was not there, but in the last three years I have never seen him.”
The reply also states that after the Constitution was promulgated in 1950, the IB was placed in schedule VII, inferring that this legitimised the IB. But schedule VII clearly mentions that a “Central Intelligence Bureau” can be created by an “Act of Parliament.”
The fact is that the IB was never created by an Act of Parliament and independent India carried on with its colonial legacy.