Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2013 arrow Liberating “Caged Parrot”: FUNCTIONAL AUTONOMY NOT ENOUGH, By Dr S Saraswathi, 27 May, 2013
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Liberating “Caged Parrot”: FUNCTIONAL AUTONOMY NOT ENOUGH, By Dr S Saraswathi, 27 May, 2013 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 27 May 2013

Liberating “Caged Parrot”


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The Supreme Court’s very provocative dubbing of the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) 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.  


But, the humour, the indepth 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 “caged parrot” is normally a pet of the owner - a proud possession that is the owner’s pride and the neighbour’s envy.  Once liberated from the cage, it will not come back to the owner like a dog.  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.


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.


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 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.


It could also investigate serious crimes committed by individuals and organized criminal gangs, smuggling, crimes on high seas, and large-scale cheating and misappropriation, etc.


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 which were rapidly growing simultaneously almost as part of development process. 


Electoral victory, political positions, and administrative power 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 its own functionaries without fear or favour.  How to achieve this is the central issue in reforming the CBI which is overdue.


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. What is perhaps intended to protect civil servants from frivolous investigations that would detract their concentration on work and their duties and block innovative ideas for fear of misinterpretation may have some deleterious consequences.  It can turn out to be a facilitator for alliance of political patronage and bureaucratic skill for manipulation for “white-collar crimes” in an age of corruption unless suitable safeguards are built into the mechanism and its operation.


Practically, as an arm of the Government with no independence in functioning, the CBI has to seek the permission of the government for every step. This itself is a big hurdle in its autonomous functioning. The bogey of CBI can easily be roused to bully opponents, coerce allies, and subjugate its flock by any government in an atmosphere charged with corruption all round.  The situation is similar to that of the police in the control of State governments.


Autonomy for the CBI is a key demand of Team Anna in pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill.  Autonomy here does not imply lack of accountability to any authority, but accountability to law and law only.  It should empower the CBI to register a case suo moto on the basis of information received by it and initiate and proceed with investigations independently without any direction or control by the Government.  It follows that its report is its own production.


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.  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.


Changes in the organizational structure and functional autonomy by themselves cannot bring about miraculous results. For, the same people have to work the new system.  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. ----INFA 


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT