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Law

Madras HC Says Union Govt Must Release 'Caged Parrot' CBI, Issues Directions

To be truly autonomous, the court argued, the CBI must be granted statutory status.

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New Delhi: The Madras high court has issued a number of directions to the Union government, which it says will “release the caged parrot” that is the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The CBI should be an autonomous body like the Comptroller and Auditor General that reports only to parliament, the court has said.

The opposition has often alleged that the CBI, along with other central agencies like the National Investigation Agency, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department, is being used like a political tool by the Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Issuing 12-point directives to the Union government, the Madras high court has said it must now “release the caged parrot”.

The “caged parrot” metaphor for the CBI has been around for a while – it was first used by the Supreme Court in 2013, when then opposition BJP alleged that the Congress was controlling the agency.

In order to ensure the CBI’s autonomy, the Madras high court said that it must be granted statutory status, NDTV reported. “The Government of India is directed to consider and take a decision for enactment of a separate Act giving statutory status with more powers and jurisdiction to CBI at the earliest… the Central Government shall make CBI independent with functional autonomy without administrative control of the Government,” the court said.

“There is always a clamour for a CBI investigation whenever any sensitive, heinous crimes are committed and there is no proper investigation by local police…such is the trust and faith of the people,” a division bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran and B. Pugalendhi said, according to Times of India. “…Very sadly, the CBI is dragging its feet, whenever there is a demand for (an) inquiry, on the ground that resources and manpower available with it are restricted and, therefore, it cannot conduct investigations. This is the usual stereotypical defence of the CBI before courts.”

The court also asked the CBI to prepare a report within six weeks on what further divisions and wings were need to increase efficiency, as well as what sort of staff strength would be required.

“Facilities for the premier agency have to be enhanced, so that it could be equated, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of United States of America and Scotland Yard of United Kingdom,” the judgment continued. The judges particularly laid out the importance of increasing forensic labs in different parts of the country.

The CBI’s increasing lack of autonomy has well been well documented. In June this year, when the new CBI director was appointed, the text of the appointment notification had undergone some questionable modifications. As The Wire reported then, Subodh Kumar Jaiswal was appointed for a period of “two years from the date of assumption of charge of the office or until further orders whichever is earlier“. Previous appointment letters did not mention the latter clause (until further orders). With Jaiswal, the notification makes clear that the government appears to reserve for itself the power to terminate his appointment before he completes the term.