Since the advent of civilization and economic stabilization, countries have been exposed to major threats like terrorism, espionage, etc. This prompted the formation of proper organizations popularly known as intelligence agencies which sought to fight for the interest of the country. Intelligence agencies are in principal government departments involved in the gathering of military and political information, especially in the interests of national security.

They form the first line of defense for a country to its internal and external threats and are largely responsible for analyzing and exploiting information in support of national security and foreign policy objectives. In India, top intelligence agencies include Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), etc.

What degree of autonomy do the intelligence agencies exercise?
The workings of intelligence agencies are very hush-hush and not much is known about the autonomy enjoyed by RAW. But on the same note, CBI, which is the premier investigating agency of India, can shed some light on this matter.

In the landmark judgement of Vineet Narain v. Union of India in 1997, the Court laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI and ordered that the CBI be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an independent governmental agency intended to be free from executive control or interference. This was to make sure that politics and high influential bureaucrats do not influence CBI proceedings.

Similarly, in August 2013, CBI reiterated their grievances to the Supreme Court about their lack of financial autonomy while rejecting Centre’s proposal for an accountability panel for it. Following which, the Supreme Court dubbed CBI as a “caged parrot” and “it’s master’s voice”. It subsequently filed a 41-page affidavit in the apex court detailing the various steps it was planning to insulate the agency from political and other influences. They gave CBI partial independence, allowing them to author key reports independently, etc.

Quite recently, on 13th August 2019, CJI Ranjan Gogoi advocated more autonomy to CBI, while addressing the 18th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture. He said, “In the Vineet Narain v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court had expressed concern over the state of affairs and laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force. However, given that the superintendence and control of the agency continue to, in large measure, lie with the executive by virtue of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever-present.” He further elaborated that “The CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller & Auditor General. The legal mandate of the CBI must be strengthened by having comprehensive legislation addressing deficiencies relating to organisational structure, the charter of functions, limits of power, superintendence and oversight.”

After reading the viewpoints and current history, one questions raises its ugly head—What did we achieve in the ruse of autonomy? In 2010, when P Chidambaram was home minister, CBI arrested Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin encounter case and recently in 2019, when Amit Shah is the current home minister, CBI has arrested Chidambaram in the INX media case. Is this simply coincidence or the prominent underlining reason the obvious affair?

Pros and Cons of having autonomy–
Why is autonomy so important for intelligence agencies like CBI? What changes can we afford to see if autonomy is made a reality? To start with, what is autonomy? It’s the right or condition of self-government. In an over-populous country like India where corruption is rampant and passing bureaucratic red tapes is like winning the lottery, autonomy is important. Politics are a corrupt affair where top officials are regularly accused of numerous scandals. But what can CBI do, if it must seek the permission of the centre to prosecute the politicians at the centre? Doesn’t make sense. CBI, run by IPS officers in the deputation, are also susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers because they are dependent on the Central government for future postings. Going through proper channels like asking for permission of the state before they can make an appearance there, can tip off the probable wrongdoers which will result in them absconding. Autonomy will also lead to faster proceedings while treating everyone as equals. Many opposition parties have accused the Centre of keeping the CBI as its own personal handmaiden, manipulating them for their own political and economic gain.

While circumstances demand more autonomy, the repercussions of this move should also be evaluated. More autonomy means more power and more power leads to misuse of power. Autonomy also creates a sense of self-righteousness and the feeling of being superior, which can influence many decisions for the worse. Complete autonomy will also sometimes lead to the Centre being kept out of the loop on imminent threats. It also stands a chance of being politically motivated by second parties for their own gain.

Every coin has two sides. In that sense, every action has a pro and a con. That does not mean that steps should not be taken in that accord. As Ranjan Gogoi and many others have so outspokenly advocated, autonomy should be given a serious recommendation. Autonomy will escalate the investigation process and lead to the decline of political influence, but this should be given in level hand doses with accountability and transparency paid for. As instances have dictated above, CBI is merely the arm of a functioning robot, rhymed to the tunes of the current government. For the transparency process, the Director should be chosen in a multi-layered process with transparency and the sub-inspectors should also be chosen in a similar way so as to not be influenced by any interest other than that of the country. Sometimes to make leeway, you need to let go of your child’s hand to let him prosper and grow.

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