CBI autonomy: Government's proposal disappoints critics and the agency

New Delhi: After it was accused by the Supreme Court of turning the CBI into "the state's parrot", the government has submitted a 41-page proposal on how to free the CBI of political control.

The new plan keeps administrative control of India's top law enforcement agency firmly with the government, leading CBI officials to comment that the agency is still "a caged parrot," a term used by the Supreme Court in April.

CBI investigators probing alleged graft in the government allocation of coal mining licences admitted sharing a report on  "Coal-gate" with officials in the law and prime minister's offices before it was presented in court.

In the affidavit given to the Supreme Court today, the government has said it will  amend the 1946 Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which created the CBI. It has promised to set up a three-member "Accountability Commission" of retired judges to investigate complaints. The government "shall not interfere with investigation or disposal of cases", it said. (Read full text of the government affidavit here)

Changes were also proposed to bolster the independence of the CBI chief, who would be appointed by a three-member panel comprising the prime minister, the Supreme Court chief justice and the leader of the opposition in parliament. Only the President would be able to sack him.

But the CBI has been denied the right to hire its own lawyers, which would have given it greater autonomy in politically sensitive investigations. It will have to largely  use the government's legal officers to represent it in court. And though its budget has been enhanced, expenses, even minor ones like an officer traveling abroad, still need the government's sanction.

The coal inquiry is especially sensitive for the government because for some of the years under scrutiny, the Prime Minister held direct charge of the Coal Ministry. That has led to the opposition demanding his resignation.