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Liberating the "Caged Parrot" : Focus on systemic changes, values

Liberating the "Caged Parrot" : Focus on systemic changes, values
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The Supreme Court's very provocative dubbing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a 'caged parrot' repeating 'his master's voice' cannot...

The Supreme Court's very provocative dubbing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a "caged parrot" repeating "his master's voice" cannot certainly be received as a compliment for steadfast loyalty by the recipient of the comment. On the contrary, it is bound to be resented as an insult to a public office irrespective of its relevance. A But, the humour, the in-depth meaning, and the sarcasm that can be read in this expression cannot but stimulate debate on the organization and functioning of the CBI over the years. It is time to introspect sincerely what went wrong and where, and what can be done now to restore credibility of this very important agency of the Government of India for investigation of crimes.

The urgency to remedy the situation that has earned the Supreme Court's observation has been acknowledged by the government � the master � by a prompt response by constituting a GoM (Group of Ministers) to examine ways of granting functional autonomy to the CBI. This itself is liable to be interpreted as an admission that this agency has gone astray from its original objective or raison d'etre and needs to be corrected.A A "caged parrot" is normally a pet of the owner . Once liberated, it will not come back to the owner. It may not even recognize or distinguish its erstwhile master(s) from others.

Shaped in its present form in 1963 on the basis of the Santanam Committee Report, there has always been some controversy surrounding the CBI. Its "caged" status and the faculty of repeating "his master's voice" are acquisitions in the course of its evolution as an agency very much in use in Indian politics and public administration.A The origin of the CBI goes back to pre-Independence era when the British government set up the Special Police Establishment (SPE) in 1944. It was designed to investigate offences of bribery and corruption committed in various transactions related to the Second World War, particularly those of the Supply Departments.

Corruption indeed got immense scope for expansion during war time on account of shortage and scarcity of many goods. Black marketing also took roots in India. A Corruption continued to stay after the war and took firmer roots, making it necessary to continue the SPE under a legislation � the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946. It was located in the Home Department of the Government of India where it found its permanent residence. Its functions have been enlarged in course of time to cover all departments of the central government and territories directly under central administration.

The CBI, in its present form, was created after the recommendation of the Santanam Committee constituted by the Nehru government to study the extent of corruption in public life in India and suggest remedial measures. A A glance through the findings of this committee reported in 1963 reveals the enormity of the problem corroding public life and the absolute need for exclusive investigation of cases involving various forms of corruption, mainly in the form of illegal amassing of wealth.

The CBI was envisaged as an investigative agency at the disposal of the Union government. Its charter enjoins the organization to investigate all cases of corruption by central government officials and departments, violation of central fiscal laws, major frauds in government departments, and public and private sector companies. As the scope of the CBI investigation gradually expanded, the organization developed two wings � one for corruption cases, and the other for investigating special crimes, including economic offences.

Electoral victory, political positions, and administrative powers provided opportunities for unethical practices as well as many facilities for cover-up and escape routes in many cases to the unscrupulous. An unholy nexus grew up between crime-politics-administration, and the CBI should normally jump into action to break this.

A conflicting situation has thus grown. A tool of the government has to expose truthfully the misdeeds of government functionaries without fear or favour. A The task is particularly difficult as a section inserted in the DSPE Act in 2003 makes it mandatory for the CBI to obtain prior permission of the government to initiate proceedings against any official above the rank of joint secretary. A Autonomy for the CBI is a key demand of Team Anna in pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill.A Autonomy here does not imply lack of accountability to any authority, but accountability to law and law only.

Liberation of the CBI from the clutches of the Executive wing of the government is but one aspect of fight against corruption. It is much more than financial autonomy. A This is not possible unless there is political consensus in the country among all parties and political will to clean up public life and public affairs.A Systemic changes have to be backed by high ethical and moral values, emphasis on integrity, high sense of responsibility, natural adherence to law, and propensity for objectivity and fairness in governance. Our education system has to inculcate these human values.

Dr S Saraswathi

(The writer is former director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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