WHEN CENTRAL Bureau of Investigation Director Amar Pratap Singh made a presentation to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on law and justice examining the proposed Lokpal Bill, he stressed the need to make the CBI autonomous. Clearly, he saw an opportunity to be freed of political interference. Singh demanded that the director’s appointment no longer be subject to the whims of the political leadership and instead be done by a committee, comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and any other constitutional authority.
Currently, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet headed by the PM selects the CBI director from a panel of three members recommended by a selection board comprising the central vigilance commissioner (CVC), home secretary and secretary (coordination), Cabinet Secretariat. Views of the incumbent director are also considered. Since the prime minister takes the final call, the selection remains the prerogative of the government.
Anti-graft crusaders led by Anna Hazare have rejected the Standing Committee report and have proclaimed that without the CBI, the Lokpal will be reduced to an “enquiry-pal”. This, despite assurances from Standing Committee Chairman Abhishek Manu Singhvi that enough safeguards have been put in place to ensure the CBI’s autonomy.
The agency, for its part, remains apprehensive. “This was a great opportunity to get rid of political interference. To start with, the director’s appointment could have been made more transparent,” says an officer on condition of anonymity.
Former CBI director RK Raghavan also feels that the selection procedure of the director should be changed. “Selection should be made by a collegium, including the prime minister, the home minister, Leader of the Opposition, the Lokpal and the CVC,” he says.
Pinaki Misra, a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee examining the Lokpal Bill, says it was agreed that a special committee would select the director. “But the next day we were told that the director’s appointment would be done by the existing procedure,” he says.
Former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi, a key member of the anticorruption movement, says only changing the selection procedure will not help. “What about removal? If removal remains with the government, then the director can get away in case of misconduct,” she says. Raghavan has a solution for this. “The removal should be done by the same collegium,” he says. “The director should have a mandatory tenure of five years and he should not be eligible for any government office for five years from the date he lays down office.”
Team Anna had demanded that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be brought under the Lokpal ambit. In his presentation to the parliamentary panel, Director AP Singh had expressly said that the CBI should not be bifurcated. In the presence of the prime minister, he said, “I am of the belief that the proposal to bifurcate the CBI is neither practical nor advisable.”
The CBI believes that the three units of the agency — the anti-corruption branch, the economic offences wing and the special crime unit are interlinked and inseparable. “At times, we need help of all units in one particular case. A recent example is the ongoing probe in the National Rural Health Mission scam in Uttar Pradesh, where the CBI is probing corruption and also the suspicious killing of a chief medical officer in jail,” says an officer.
However, Kiran Bedi says leaving out the CBI would reduce the Lokpal’s office to a post office: “If the CBI has a problem with bifurcation, then the agency should come lock, stock and barrel with the Lokpal.” The parliamentary panel has come up with a proposal to address non-bifurcation, but it comes with a caveat. According to it, the agency has to take approval from the Lokpal before filing a chargesheet or a closure report in a case. It also suggests that the Lokpal do the preliminary inquiry for a case and then forward it to the CBI.
This is not acceptable to the agency. The CBI has support from all quarters on this, including Team Anna. Bedi says that the CBI’s autonomy has been compromised. But she blames the agency for this. “They went about it in a half-hearted manner. They had the opportunity of a lifetime to get rid of political interference, but they wasted it,” she says.
FORMER CBI chiefs are also amused with these provisions. “The provision of taking approval for chargesheet, final report or closing a case is totally unacceptable and will dilute the CBI’s autonomy,” says Raghavan. Former director Joginder Singh agrees. “The law is very clear that filing of chargesheet is the prerogative of the investigating agency,” he says. Pinaki Misra calls it a grey area and says “supervisory control by the Lokpal” is not well defined.
CBI Director AP Singh has clearly said that bifurcation of the agency is neither practical nor advisable
As the cry for autonomy for the CBI gets louder, the National Campaign for People’s Right to information (NCPRI) feels there is a need to be watchful. “The CBI should not be left without any civilian control. It can be under the administrative control of the Lokpal,” states Nikhil Dey of the NCPRI.
According to sources, the CBI is upset with the provisions and has lodged a formal protest. It has written to the Ministry of Personnel (CBI comes under the ministry) to intervene. The note comprises three key issues — selection of the director, approval needed from the Lokpal to file chargesheets and the Lokpal holding preliminary inquiry before forwarding a case to the CBI. The CBI believes this can cause a delay in investigation since all cases do not need a preliminary inquiry and if such an inquiry is required, it should be conducted by the agency itself.
With Team Anna trying to gather political support for a stronger anti-graft law, there are indicators that the prime minister and the lower bureaucracy will be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal. The CBI might be the only flashpoint. While there is political unanimity that the CBI should be free of government control, there seems to be little consensus on the mechanism to achieve this.