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17th November Current Affairs

Autonomy of CBI

(GS-II: Important organizations)

In News:

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the CBI is an “autonomous body” and it has no ‘control’ over the investigative agency.

What’s the issue?

The response came while objecting to a suit filed by the West Bengal Government making the Union of India, and not the CBI, party.

West Bengal has, in the case, challenged the CBI’s jurisdiction to register FIRs and conduct investigations in the State in myriad cases. The State had withdrawn its “general consent” to the CBI way back in 2018.

Observations made by the Centre:

CBI operates under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE), and it also derives its authority to register cases under the same law. The Union of India has nothing to do with it.

It is the central vigilance commission (CVC) which has been tasked with superintendence over CBI, and the CVC Act makes it clear that there cannot be any interference with the investigations conducted by the agency.

Challenges associated with the autonomy of CBI:

The agency is dependent on the home ministry for staffing, since many of its investigators come from the Indian Police Service.

The agency depends on the law ministry for lawyers and also lacks functional autonomy to some extent.

The CBI, run by IPS officers on deputation, is also susceptible to the government’s ability to manipulate the senior officers, because they are dependent on the Central government for future postings.

Dependence on State governments for invoking its authority to investigate cases in a State, even when such investigation targets a Central government employee.

Since police is a State subject under the Constitution, and the CBI acts as per the procedure prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which makes it a police agency, the CBI needs the consent of the State government in question before it can make its presence in that State. This is a cumbersome procedure and has led to some ridiculous situations.

SC over CBI’s autonomy:

The landmark judgment in Vineet Narain v. Union of India in 1997 laid out several steps to secure the autonomy of CBI.

Why was it called caged parrot by the Supreme Court?

Politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been a work in progress for years.

Corruption and Politically biased: This was highlighted in Supreme Court criticism for being a caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice.

CBI has been accused of becoming ‘handmaiden’ to the party in power, as a result high profile cases are not treated seriously.

Since CBI is run by central police officials on deputation hence chances of getting influenced by government was visible in the hope of better future postings.

What institutional reforms are needed?

Ensure that CBI operates under a formal, modern legal framework that has been written for a contemporary investigative agency.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) suggested that a new law should be enacted to govern the working of the CBI.

Parliamentary standing committee (2007) recommended that a separate act should be promulgated in tune with requirement with time to ensure credibility and impartiality.

The 19th and 24th reports of the parliamentary standing committees (2007 and 2008) recommended that the need of the hour is to strengthen the CBI in terms of legal mandate, infrastructure and resources.

The government must ensure financial autonomy for the outfit.

It is also possible to consider granting the CBI and other federal investigation agencies the kind of autonomy that the Comptroller and Auditor General enjoys as he is only accountable to Parliament.

A new CBI Act should be promulgated that ensures the autonomy of CBI while at the same time improving the quality of supervision. The new Act must specify criminal culpability for government interference.

One of the demands that has been before Supreme Court, and in line with international best practices, is for the CBI to develop its own dedicated cadre of officers who are not bothered about deputation and abrupt transfers.

A more efficient parliamentary oversight over the federal criminal and intelligence agencies could be a way forward to ensure better accountability, despite concerns regarding political misuse of the oversight.

World Bank’s STARS project

(GS-II: Issues related to education)

In News:

Performance of World Bank aided project STARS was reviewed recently.

What is it?

STARS stands for Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States Program (STARS).

STARS project would be implemented as a new Centrally Sponsored Scheme under the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education.

It is a project to improve the quality and governance of school education in six Indian states.

Six states are- Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan.

Some 250 million students (between the age of 6 and 17) in 1.5 million schools, and over 10 million teachers will benefit from the program.

Reform initiatives under the project include:

Focusing more directly on the delivery of education services at the state, district and sub district levelsby providing customized local-level solutions towards school improvement.

Addressing demands from stakeholders, especially parents, for greater accountability and inclusion by producing better data to assess the quality of learning; giving special attention to students from vulnerable section.

Equipping teachers to manage this transformation by recognizing that teachers are central to achieving better learning outcomes.

Investing more in developing India’s human capital needs by strengthening foundational learning for children in classes 1 to 3 and preparing them with the cognitive, socio-behavioural and language skills to meet future labour market needs.

Unique components of the project:

Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC):

The project includes a Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) under the National Component which would enable it to be more responsive to any natural, man-made and health disasters.

It will help the government respond to situations leading to loss of learning such as school closures/infrastructure damage, inadequate facilities and use technology for facilitating remote learning etc.

The CERC component would facilitate the rapid re-categorization of financing and the utilization of streamlined financing request procedures.

PARAKH:

A major component of the project is the establishment of PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development) as a National Assessment Centre.

Included in the National Education Policy 2020, this autonomous institution under the Union Education Ministry will set norms for student assessment and evaluation for all school boards across the country, most of which currently follow norms set by State governments.

It will also guide standardised testing to monitor learning outcomes at the State and national levels, according to the NEP.

SC, HCs can’t interfere in daily temple rituals

(GS-II: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions)

In News:

A writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court alleging that rituals were not being performed as per traditions at the famous Tirumala Tirupati temple.

Supreme Court’s observations:

Constitutional courts could not interfere with day-to-day rituals and sevas performed in temples on the basis of “public interest” petitions.

Religious scholars and priests were best equipped to go into the question whether rituals in a temple were being conducted in accordance with customs and traditions.

In such matters, the writ jurisdiction of a constitutional court under Articles 226 and 32 was limited.

What is Article 32?

Article 32 deals with the ‘Right to Constitutional Remedies’, or affirms the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred in Part III of the Constitution.

It states that the Supreme Court “shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part”.

Key Points:

The right guaranteed by this Article “shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution”.

Only if any of these fundamental rights is violated can a person can approach the Supreme Court directly under Article 32.

Can High Courts be approached in cases of violation of fundamental rights?

In civil or criminal matters, the first remedy available to an aggrieved person is that of trial courts, followed by an appeal in the High Court and then the Supreme Court.

When it comes to violation of fundamental rights, an individual can approach the High Court under Article 226 or the Supreme Court directly under Article 32.

Article 226, however, is not a fundamental right like Article 32.

What have been the Supreme Court’s recent observations on Article 32?

In Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras (1950), the Supreme Court observed that Article 32 provides a “guaranteed” remedy for the enforcement of fundamental rights.

This Court is thus constituted the protector and guarantor of fundamental rights, and it cannot, consistently with the responsibility so laid upon it, refuse to entertain applications seeking protection against infringements of such rights,” the court observed.

During the Emergency, in Additional District Magistrate, Jabalpur vs S S Shukla (1976), the Supreme Court had said that the citizen loses his right to approach the court under Article 32.

Finally, Constitutional experts say that it is eventually at the discretion of the Supreme Court and each individual judge to decide whether an intervention is warranted in a case, which could also be heard by the High Court first.

National Register of Citizens (NRC)

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

Only little over a thousand doubtful cases in the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Assam have been referred to the concerned district commissioners for necessary action.

Background:

More than 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants in Assam were excluded from the final draft register published on August 31, 2019, which cost ₹1,220 crore.

The government had rejected the NRC in its current form and demanded re-verification of at least 30% names in areas bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the rest of the State.

Background:

The Supreme Court had monitored the exercise of updating the NRC of 1951 in Assam. About 19.06 lakh out of 3.3 crore applicants were excluded from the updated draft.

About NRC:

At its core, the NRC is an official record of those who are legal Indian citizens. It includes demographic information about all those individuals who qualify as citizens of India as per the Citizenship Act, 1955.

The register was first prepared after the 1951 Census of India and since then it has not been updated until recently.

NRC in Assam:

So far, such a database has only been maintained for the state of Assam.

The exercise was a culmination of Assam Accord of 1985 signed between the Centre and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) for detection, disenfranchisement and deportation of foreigners.

Why was NRC updated for Assam?

In 2013, the SC ordered the updation of the NRC, in accordance with Citizenship Act, 1955 and Citizenship Rules, 2003 in all parts of Assam. The process officially started in 2015.

Issues present:

Lakhs of people were left out of the complete draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in 2018.

As per the Supreme Court mandated rules, those left out of the draft NRC list had to mandatorily submit their biometrics during the hearings of ‘claims’ (to include themselves in the NRC) and ‘objections’ (to object to someone else’s inclusion) process.

27 lakh people who were left out from the list published in 2018 submitted their biometric details and amongst these only 8 lakh people made it into the draft list published in 2019. However, these 8 lakh people are struggling to get Aadhaar, and concerned about benefits linked to it

Lack of clarity and inability to enjoy the full benefits emanating from Aadhar has caused significant mental pressure on individuals.

This situation has arisen primarily due to the lack of clarity over the NRC exercise since the government is withholding assigning Aadhar to these newly added individuals since the complete and final NRC list is yet to be published.