The Opposition has accused the government of subverting the process of appointment of the chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The government recently appointed Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat cadre officer, as acting chief of the CBI. The Opposition called it an attempt to circumvent the process laid out for such appointments. The appointment of a CBI chief, the Opposition said, has to be approved by a panel, including the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
Mallikarjun Kharge, who is heading the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, on Wednesday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi complaining that “the entire process is being manipulated to pre-empt the decision to be arrived at in the meeting of the selection committee.”
Earlier, the Supreme Court also agreed to hear a plea challenging the appointment of Asthana on Friday. The petition, filed by an NGO, alleged that the Centre took a series of steps in a “completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Asthana was given the charge of CBI director”.
Kharge also alleged that a meeting of a committee that chooses the CBI chief was deliberately avoided to “ensure that the charge is handed over to a junior officer.”
Rakesh Asthana, a 1984 batch officer who is the government’s top choice for the post, is said be too junior to even make it to a panel of possible candidates for CBI chief to replace Anil Sinha who retired last week.
Opposition parties say that by appointing Asthana as the interim chief, the government has not only circumvented the need to call a meeting of the selection committee, but also built an opportunity to make the officer CBI chief next year, when he will be senior enough to be part of the panel of candidates. The CBI chief, once appointed remains in the seat for three years. Had the government appointed a full-time chief, Asthana would not be able to make it to the top next year.
In his letter to the PM, Kharge has also referred to the sudden transfer of RK Dutta, the senior most officer in line to be the next CBI chief, only three days before Sinha retired. Incidentally, Dutta, who was transferred to the home ministry as special secretary, was investigating the coal allocation case and the 2G case. The Supreme Court had earlier ordered that no officer connected with these two cases should be removed.
Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev said just a year ago the government had amended the procedures through legislation to include leader of largest party rather than the Opposition leader in the panel of selection committee in the name of bringing accountability. “Now the question is when there is an act of Parliament which lays down a procedure, today the government has done exactly the opposite,” she alleged.