Madras high court issues directions to ‘release caged parrot CBI’

By, Hindustan Tiimes, Chennai
Aug 19, 2021 02:38 AM IST

The Supreme Court described the CBI as “caged parrot” and “its master’s voice” in May 2013 while citing evidence of interference in the federal agency’s inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allocation of coalfield licences

The Madras high court on Tuesday asked the Centre to consider enacting a law giving statutory status to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to ensure its autonomy without the government’s administrative control. It was part of a slew of directions the court issued for improving the CBI functioning as part of an attempt to “release the caged parrot”.

Representational image.
Representational image.

The Supreme Court described the CBI as “caged parrot” and “its master’s voice” in May 2013 while citing evidence of interference in the federal agency’s inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allocation of coalfield licences. The comments triggered a debate on political interference in the CBI’s functioning when the then Congress-led government faced a series of corruption charges.

The high court said the autonomy would be ensured only when the agency is given statutory status on the lines of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and Election Commission (EC). It noted CAG is only accountable to Parliament and that there should be independence for CBI like the EC.

Also Read | CBI not entitled to documents till they show relevance to probe: Maharashtra govt

The CBI, which is mandated to probe corruption and major crimes, comes under the administrative control of the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) under the Prime Minister’s Office.

The high court also sought more powers and jurisdiction for the CBI at the earliest as well as separate budgetary allocation for it. The court said the CBI director should be given powers as that of the secretary to the government and should directly report to the Prime Minister. It said the agency should get modern facilities on par with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the US) and Scotland Yard (the UK).

The court asked the CBI for a policy within six weeks for permanently recruiting cyber forensic and financial audit experts so that all its wings can have dedicated experts instead of having them on case-to-case basis. The court also gave a timeline for clearing pending cases. It posted the matter for hearing next six weeks later and asked the CBI to file a compliance report or for the director of CBI to appear in the court.

Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi of the high court’s Madurai bench issued the directions while refusing to grant relief in response to a Public Interest litigation seeking a CBI probe in a chit fund scam. “This order is an attempt to release the ‘Caged Parrot’ (CBI),” the bench said.

The bench said there is a clamour for a CBI probe because of an “aura of reverence” whenever a heinous crime is committed and there is no proper investigation by the local police. “When such is the trust and faith of the people, very sadly CBI is dragging its feet, whenever there is a demand for CBI enquiry on the ground that resources and manpower available with CBI are very restricted and therefore, it cannot conduct investigations,” the bench said. It added this is a standard response of the CBI that it “often parrots’ before the courts.

The court, in an earlier order, asked 15 questions regarding the resources, manpower, investigating skills and infrastructure facilities available with the CBI. After the CBI submitted its response, the court issued the directions on Tuesday.

A CBI officer, who did not want to be named, said this is a policy matter and only the government or the DoPT will be able to comment..

A person aware of the matter, who did not want to be named, said top CBI officers met on Wednesday and took note of the observations for a comprehensive proposal. “This will have to be done within six weeks...”

K Chandru, a retired Madras high court judge, said in a federal system, state police forces need to be strengthened to get better results. “Without the state police being involved in any local efforts, it will be difficult for the CBI...”

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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