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CBI without autonomy

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That the CBI has had to tell the Supreme Court that it is having difficulty in functioning as an independent investigating agency shows that the...

That the CBI has had to tell the Supreme Court that it is having difficulty in functioning as an independent investigating agency shows that the Centre is not yet ready to let go of its hold on the agency. Pertinently, in the Coalgate investigations the apex court had directed the agency to submit its status reports to the court directly and not to let them be vetted or scrutinized by any Central government department or official.

Subsequently, the Centre had assured the court that it was fully cooperating with the agency in the investigations into coal blocks allocations. If still on Tuesday the agency found it necessary to submit to the court that it is operating under a “stranglehold of bureaucrats”, it is nothing short of an indictment of the Central Government, with its proposals often returned with 20 objections noted by a head clerk in the department. That also means that with the apex court emphasizing on the need for autonomy for the CBI, the Centre has degraded the agency to the level of a head clerk.

Be that as it may, there is merit in the stand of the agency that its director’s proposals be routed directly to the Minister in charge of the Department of Personnel and Training. But the question still remains why those proposals, probably pertaining to the missing files in the Coalgate Case, need to go to the Minister at all when the apex court has clearly directed that the agency should deal only with it in the investigations into the case, keeping aside all Central government attempts to interfere in the probe.

For instance, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal has said that the “list of documents” in the Coalgate probe, which could not be located, would be given to the CBI in a day or two. But why did the Minister refuse to comment on the number of files which have been located in the past few days, how they were located and where, what they contained and whom they incriminated? Is there still an attempt to shield politicians and businessmen who fattened on irregular allocations of coal blocks, even though the matter is now directly being monitored by the Supreme Court?
If that is indeed so, does it not amount to contempt of court? The apex court may not be touchy about it, but it should step in to discipline the Central government that is clearly trying to wriggle out of having to release the CBI from its stranglehold. Maybe it does not want more skeletons to roll out of its closets. It has been repeatedly said in these columns that the surest way of ensuring the autonomy of the CBI is to put it directly under the Supreme Court, as it indeed was during the 1990s, much to the dislike of politicians of all hues.
Significantly, nobody talked those days of the ruling party using the CBI to harass Opposition parties so as to make them fall in line with the Government. Since there is a precedent for the agency functioning directly under the apex court, there is no reason why it should not be made to do it now. After all, the agency had then won all-round praise for acting objectively in all cases. It is probably time it is once again put under the direct control of the apex court.
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