New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday ensured partial autonomy for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by directing the government to ease its hold on the agency and permit it to promote certain officials without having to go through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).

The court also said the CBI should be allowed to author some key reports independently.

Agreeing with the CBI’s demand for autonomy in writing annual confidential reports, related to appraisals of legal officers working with CBI, the government has handed over the task to the director and joint director of the agency.

Thus far, as per experts, the government had been exercising excessive influence in the matter, which was affecting the functioning of the agency.

A three-judge special bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice R.M. Lodha ordered that “appropriate administrative orders be issued within 2 weeks" by the government.

“The change will help in effective discharge of function by the CBI," the court said, approving non-statutory, administrative changes at the agency.

In effect, annual confidential reports on the CBI’s director of prosecution, which experts say is a summation of the performance, will now be written by the director of the CBI.

Reports on the CBI’s law officers will be authored by the director of prosecution in consultation with a joint director.

The director of prosecution (DoP) is responsible for conducting and supervising CBI cases that are pending trial, appeal or revision in courts. “Legal adviser, or DoP, at present is on deputation by the law ministry and is answerable only to the law ministry," said Joginder Singh, former CBI director. Thus, in essence, now the CBI director will have a say on the contents of the report.

“The idea seems that CBI wants to establish a clear chain of command. DoP should report to CBI and the law officer shall be answerable to the joint director," said Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University. The other key development is that the CBI will no longer have to route all its internal promotions through the UPSC. It is now empowered to promote inspectors to the rank of deputy superintendent of police on its own.

The government, however, has not entertained the CBI’s request that its director be vested with ex-officio powers of secretary. Such a move will ensure autonomy as the director will then directly report to the minister in charge of the department of personnel and training (DoPT).

Amrendra Sharan, counsel for CBI, submitted in court that the director already enjoys the same rank and salary but not the nomenclature. As a result, “all proposals are routed through the DoPT which consumes time. Everything we (CBI) send is returned with 20 objections".

Attorney general G.E. Vahanvati countered the argument saying even the director of the Intelligence Bureau is not given such powers.

The CBI has also demanded that it be permitted to appoint special counsels and retainer counsels.

The court has granted the government time till 29 October to respond on this.

The Supreme Court also concluded hearing on the issue of the CBI requiring the government’s approval for launching an enquiry or investigation against high-ranking government officials. Arguments in the matter were confined to cases where the court has directed the investigation or is monitoring it.

The controversial statutory provision gives the government the sole power to bar any inquiry against an employee despite a request from the agency for a probe.

The original stance of the government, as per its affidavit submitted on 3 July, suggested that it would take up to three months to decide on such requests by the CBI. But amid opposition by petitioners who had moved the Supreme Court against the provision, and the waiving of the requirement by another bench of the apex court in the 2G spectrum allocation case, the government has considerably altered its position.

The government has agreed that it will be bound to take a decision on such requests by the CBI within four weeks. If the agency is dissatisfied with the decision, it could approach the Supreme Court.

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