CBI chief: PMO content to allow ‘illegally’ appointed interim director to continue

While the PMO engages in a cat-and-mouse game with the selection panel and delay the appointment of next CBI chief, there are five questions the selection panel must address while making the selection

 CBI chief: PMO content to allow ‘illegally’ appointed interim director to continue

Uttam Sengupta

The Prime Minister’s office (PMO) is manned by experienced and accomplished people. Their competence and ability undoubtedly dictated their posting at the most powerful office in the country besides considerations like their loyalty, trustworthiness and other qualities that the PM and his advisors value. In short, the PMO is not expected to make mistakes or do anything that is irresponsible, illegal and unconstitutional or both.

But the PMO’s conduct vis-à-vis the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been questionable. Since it is unlikely that such an office would make mistakes, the only inference one can draw is that its actions have been deliberate and calibrated. The dramatic midnight coup at the CBI headquarters in October last year, the installation of a relatively junior and controversial officer as interim director and continuing with him despite the Supreme Court setting aside his appointment, could not have been accidental. The inference is that we are dealing with either an incompetent PMO or a mischievous PMO.

The PMO, it has to be said, has disdainfully ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling and has continued with Nageshwar Rao as interim director. A full-time director with an assured tenure of two years clearly does not suit the Government ahead of the crucial general election. A vulnerable interim director can, however, be trusted to carry out even the illegal orders of the Government conveyed orally. That is why, it would seem, the PMO is going through the motions of selecting a permanent CBI director but doing everything to ensure that the process gets sufficiently delayed till the agency carries out the hatchet jobs that the PMO wants it to complete.

There is no other explanation why the PMO would give the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha a list of 90 IPS officers who are eligible to being appointed as Director, CBI. The list handed over by the PMO apparently contained just the basic details about the cadre, when they joined the Service and when they are due to retire. For good measure, the list also contained names of officers who have already retired and a few who are about to retire.

Asked by the leader of the largest opposition party and the CJI, both of whom with the prime Minister in the selection panel are expected to choose the next director, the PMO is learnt to have happily agreed to furnish them with more details. This time one can trust the PMO to come up with so much detail that either the panelists will be forced to seek more time or they will be forced to go by the PMO’s assessment of suitability. The process can linger for the next few weeks while the CBI interim director gets hyper active in chasing political targets.

While nothing better is expected from this PMO, the panel may like to address a few relevant questions.

1. Should the next CBI director be from the Gujarat cadre? Media reports suggest that the Government is in favour of the NIA chief Y.C. Modi, whose family has RSS links and is known to have hosted the Prime Minister, and the Gujarat DGP Shivanand Jha. While Y C Modi has served a few years in the CBI, Shivanand Jha like the ousted CBI chief Alok Verma has never worked in the CBI. Both may have nothing against them but another Gujarat cadre officer, after the aborted attempt to make Rakesh Asthana the director, will reinforce the suspicion that this PM trusts only a handful of yesmen.

2. Two of the last three directors have been from the Bihar cadre while the third was from AGMUT cadre. Is it time to look for a more diverse regional representation?

3. How should the panel define ‘experience’? Will an IPS officer with 15 years of working experience in the CBI tip the scales as opposed to someone who may have worked in the CBI for seven years in relatively junior posts?

4. How should the experience of working for a year or two in vigilance departments or anti-corruption bureau (Alok Verma had one year’s experience of working in anti-corruption bureau) weigh against actual work experience in CBI?

5. Should the panel give weightage to officers who have headed state police?

Information available in the public domain suggest that the Government has not yet come up with an objective system for selection that takes into account seniority, experience and accomplishments. There doesn’t seem to be any clarity on weightages to be given to different candidates. An efficient PMO would have worked out the weightages and finalised a system that would be both objective and transparent.

But the PMO seems content to confuse and frustrate the other two panelists so that the PMO’s choice is eventually endorsed. The PMO of course is best placed to assess the officers but the selection panel is there to prevent the Government from making a political and partisan choice. But the panelists can only do so if they are allowed to. But this PMO does not seem to either understand or respect the mechanism.

The questions, therefore, will linger. How long will the unconstitutionally appointed interim director continue at the helm of CBI? What will he be expected to do? And will the PMO have its way in choosing the next director of CBI?

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