Group of ministers to decide on CBI autonomy

Prime minister Manmohan Singh today constituted a group of ministers headed by finance minister P Chidambaram to decide on a plan of action to secure autonomy of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after the Supreme Court reprimanded the central government for influencing the central agency's investigations into the coal allocation scam.

The ministers' group has newly-appointed law minister Kapil Sibal, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy and I&B minister Manish Tiwari as the other members.

The group has been mandated to draft a new cabinet proposal on the law needed to ensure CBI's autonomy and prepare an affidavit to be submitted in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, during hearings in the petition regarding the coal mine allocation scam, had, last week, described the CBI as "a caged parrot" which "speaks in its master's voice" after the agency admitted that its investigation report had been vetted by the various ministries, including the PMO (See: Coalgate: SC once again seeks autonomy for 'caged parrot' CBI).

The CBI had in its affidavit, admitted that Ashwani Kumar, who quit as the Law Minister on Friday, and senior officials of the prime minister's office and the coal ministry had made certain changes in the report on the allocation of coal blocks.

The apex court is vexed at the CBI for tailoring its investigation report on the alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal mining licences between 2003 and 2009 to suit the requirements of the government.

The court has given the government until 3 July to lay out steps to make the investigator independent.

The Supreme Court had asked the central government whether it was contemplating any law to insulate CBI from extraneous interferences and make its working independent.

The court had also pulled up the government's top counsel, Attorney General GE Vahanvati, for perusing the draft of the CBI's probe report on the coal scandal. The A-G had also agreed with the SC that the agency should be made more independent.

CBI, the country's premier agency to investigate corruption, was set up in 1941, six years before the country gained independence from the British, mainly to probe bribery and corruption in the country during World War II.

In 1946, it was brought under the home department and its mandate was expanded to investigate corruption in central and state governments. That gave rise to a special police force to investigate acts of corruption.

The special police force evolved into the Central Bureau of Investigation after the home ministry decided to expand its powers and change its name in 1963.

The CBI, however, continues to be governed by the 1946 Act.