With the removal of Alok Verma as the CBI Director, the PM Modi-led government has put an axe on its own foot. The Common Cause NGO through its lawyer Prashant Bhushan has filed a petition in the Supreme Court questioning the appointment of Nageshwar Rao as an interim director. RTI Activist Anjali Bhardwaj is a co-petitioner in the PIL.
The petition states that the appointment of was Rao illegal, arbitrary, mala fide and in violation of the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE Act). The government can appoint a CBI Director only on the recommendations of the high-powered committee, which includes the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India or any Judge of Supreme Court nominated by him.
“It appears that this particular committee has been completely bypassed by the Union of India which has arbitrarily and without any jurisdiction appointed Rao as interim Director, CBI, on January 10, 2019. The appointment of Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI Director was apparently not made on the basis of recommendations of the high-powered selection committee,” says the petition.
The January 10, 2019, order of the PM Modi-led government states that the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointment of Rao “as per the earlier arrangement”. “The earlier arrangement, which was the order on October 23, 2018, appointing Rao as interim chief and sending Alok Verma on leave was quashed by the Supreme Court on January 8, 2019, as it was in violation of the procedure for appointment of CBI Director as defined in the DSPE Act. However, the government still invoked its earlier order which had been quashed. The Appointment Committee is not competent authority to make the appointment,” pointed out Bhushan.
Through the appointment, the government has attempted to stifle the independence of the office of CBI by arbitrarily and illegally appointing the CBI Director. “This prevents any public scrutiny and allows the government to exercise undue influence in the process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates, thereby undermining the institution of the CBI. The appointment of functionaries of various independent bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission and Information Commissioners in the Information Commissions have been challenged before Supreme Court as the appointments have happened under a cloak of secrecy,” stated the petitioners.
“The petition has also asked for transparency in the appointment of the next CBI Director. The petition will request the government to disclose the names who of those who have been shortlisted and the reasons why,” said Bhushan.
The petitioners, Common Cause and Anjali Bhardwaj, are seeking directions from the Supreme Court for laying down specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointment of the Director of the CBI.
“The Central government has failed to adopt proper procedures to ensure transparency in the short-listing, selection and appointment of the CBI Director and is not providing even basic information about the selection process under the RTI Act,” contended Bhardwaj. She had filed various applications under the RTI Act seeking information on appointment process in December 2018 but wasn’t given any information.
The high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, on January 10, shunted out CBI director Alok Verma who was reinstated by the Supreme Court on January 8, 2019. The meeting was attended by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice AK Sikri, who was nominated by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to represent him. Kharge was the only one who objected to his ouster.