No decision or discussion on interim CBI director, says Kharge
Contrary to what Attorney General KK Venugopal told Supreme Court that appointment of CBI interim director had the approval of the selection panel, a panel member claims this was not even discussed
Even as Attorney General K.K. Venugopal appeared to suggest in the Supreme Court on Friday that the appointment of Nageshwar Rao as CBI director had been approved by the three-member selection panel, lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan informed the court that he was not aware of the approval.
Later in the day Bhushan claimed he had spoken to Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, who is one of the three members in the panel and that Kharge had confirmed that the panel had neither discussed the issue nor taken a decision.
Did the Attorney General then mislead the Supreme Court? The AG did submit the minutes of the meeting of the selection panel in a sealed cover to the court. It was not immediately clear whether Mr Kharge too had been given a copy of the minutes to pursue.
The Central Bureau of Investigation is being headed by Nageshwar Rao as Director since October 24, 2018 when the then DCBI Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana were sent on forced leave by the Government in a midnight coup. While the Supreme Court reinstated Verma on January 10, the selection panel ‘transferred’ him within 48 hours on the basis of a dubious CVC report and despite protests by Mr Kharge.
At least three Supreme Court judges have recused so far from hearing petitions challenging the appointment and continuance of Nageshwar Rao as interim director. And when the issue finally came up before a Supreme Court bench, Justice Arun Mishra made it clear that an interim arrangement should not have continued for so long. However, in view of the Government’s submission that Rao’s appointment had the approval of the selection panel, the hearing was fixed for February 6.
The AG also informed the court that in all probability the next CBI director would be decided on Friday itself as the selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Mr Kharge is meeting at 6 pm.
While the question of the ‘mysterious minutes’ and the alleged consent of the panel is expected to be raised by Mr Kharge, other doubts have also surfaced about the Government’s intentions. Judging by the way the PMO has proceeded in the matter, there is suspicion that the Government wants to delay the appointment of a permanent director.
The suspicion has been strengthened following confirmation that till Thursday evening, the PMO had handed over to Mr Kharge all the details about 80 and odd IPS officers who are eligible to be appointed as next DCBI. While the PMO appears to have parted with their experience and service records etc., there is allegedly no shortlist on the table.
For the panel to arrive at a consensus, it is required that the Government presents a shortlist and its order of preference while explaining the reasons for its choice. Only when this is done can the other two members on the panel weigh in with their opinion. They can then agree with the PMO’s choice or explain why they believe someone other than the top contender would be more suitable.
Whatever happens at the meeting, however, curtains are unlikely to come down on the CBI saga anytime soon.