Accountability more important than functional autonomy for CBI: Chidambaram

Finance minister P Chidambaram today said the group of ministers (GoM) formed by the government would work towards giving functional autonomy to CBI, asserting at the same time that accountability was important, ANI reports.

Chidambaram, who is on an official visit to the UK, told NDTV that the government would give functional autonomy to the CBI in the matters of investigation, according to ANI.

The finance minister's comments came three days after prime minister Manmohan Singh formed a group of ministers (GoM) headed by Chidambaram to decide on the plan of action to insulate the investigating agency from external influence.

In addition to Chidambaram, the GOM has external affairs  minister Salman Khurshid, newly-appointed law minister Kapil Sibal, information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari and minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy as members.

According to reports, the GoM would deliberate on ways to further the autonomy of the CBI and safeguard it from external interference.

The government's move came after the Supreme Court observed that the CBI was a "a caged parrot" that "speaks in its master's voice'', after the investigating agency admitted in an affidavit that Ashwani Kumar, who resigned as law minister, 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.

Meanwhile, CBI chief Ranjit Sinha on Wednesday found himself facing the ire of the railway police association, which accused him of targeting officers out of vendetta and BJP accusing the agency of a political motive in filing charges against senior Rajasthan leader Gulab Chand Kataria.

Slamming the CBI, the BJP said the charges against Kataria, a former state home minister, in the Sohrabuddin encounter case had been filed on the basis of scant evidence and that the move was consistent with past efforts to link Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to the case.

While the BJP accused the agency of working at the behest of Congress, All India Railway Protection Force Association general secretary U S Jha said Sinha was targeting railway officials who complained against him to the Central Vigilance Commission when he was director general of RPF.

Sinha was shunted out of the ministry by the then railway minister Mamata Banerjee and was replaced by P K Mehta. Speculation in administrative circles is rife that Sinha might be tempted to settle scores as CBI moves to investigate the bribery case involving former railway minister Pawan Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla.

Sinha had indicated a few days ago that the agency would be probing contracts, postings and transfers and a letter to the railway board last month on Jha occupying two government flats despite having retired, apart from another accommodation allotted to the association, setting the cat among the pigeons.

Reacting to the association's allegations, CBI in a press statement said, "CBI had informed the Railway Board in April 2013 that a retired officer holding post of all India secretary general, RPF (who had retired in 2010), was allegedly personally occupying two government accommodation and was also in possession of one more accommodation allotted to All India RPF Association."

"The CBI has conveyed this irregularity (which is also in violation of Delhi High Court orders), to the Railway Board for necessary action as per rules," the agency added.