Cabinet to discuss CBI autonomy on Thursday

Acting on a Supreme Court directive to make the Central Bureau of Investigation, the premium central investigation agency, more independent, the government said on Monday that it is committed to free the agency from government interference, but autonomy should come with responsibility.

A panel of retired judges will oversee CBI investigations pertaining to corruption or any other significant matter and ensure that it is insulated from external interference. This panel will be called "accountability committee", law minister Kapil Sibal told newspersons on Monday.

He was speaking after the concluding meeting of a group of ministers constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chaired by finance minister P Chidambaram.

Its findings would be placed before the cabinet on Thursday.

"We have decided and that is fundamental principle of the Constitution that there should be no interference of government or any other agency in the probe carried out CBI or any other agency. We are committed to that. We feel that there should be accountability along with autonomy," Sibal said.

It has been recommended that the CBI be given financial autonomy as that accorded to agencies like the Central Reserve Police Force.

Once the cabinet clears changes proposed by the GoM, an affidavit would be submitted before the Supreme Court in this regard on 6 July, before it hears the matter further on 10 July.

Sibal also held over a 90-minute meeting with CBI director Ranjit Sinha to discuss the matter.

The group of minister (GoM) also includes external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy, who also holds an ex-officio position in the Prime Minister's Office.

"We have decided and that is fundamental principle of the Constitution that there should be no interference of government or any other agency in the probe carried out CBI or any other agency. We are committed to that. We feel that there should be accountability along with autonomy," Sibal said.

The formation of the GoM came after the Supreme Court had indicted the CBI for being a "caged parrot" of its political masters while hearing a case related to alleged irregularities in coal blocks allocation and directed it to make an effort to come out with a law to insulate CBI from external influence and intrusion.

Later, CBI director Sinha went so far as to say the apex court's ''caged parrot'' remark was justified.