The SC said it was “averse” to the order of an interim CBI Director and the Centre should “immediately” appoint a regular chief of the probe agency.
The post of CBI Director is “sensitive” and “important”, and it is not prudent to keep an interim director of the agency for a longer period, the top court recognized, seeking to know as to why the government has not made the appointment yet.
A desk of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha was told by Attorney General (AG) K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that a high-powered Selection Committee directed by the Prime Minister would meet Friday to select a new CBI director.
“We are only saying that you should appoint CBI director immediately. No more of this in-charge business,” the bench told the Venugopal, who told the committee is doing it as soon as likely.
The top court was hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause questioning the Centre’s decision to appoint IPS officer M Nageswara Rao as the interim CBI director.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, arriving for the NGO, told the top court that 40 officers have been transferred from CBI in the last 2-3 weeks.
The bench told Venugopal that the officer who would be elected as the new CBI Director should consider not only the decisions are taken by Rao after taking charge of interim CBI chief but also “trace the movement of files” during the time when IPS officer Alok Kumar Verma took charge of the post for 2 days on being reinstated.
During the hearing, Venugopal installed before the bench in a sealed cover the minutes of the meeting of the high-powered Selection Committee which was held previous month for appointing the new CBI chief.
The latest meeting of the committee took place on 24 January but it remained “inconclusive”.
Venugopal told the bench that the Centre had taken the permission of the committee to appoint Rao as an interim CBI Director.
The Selection Committee includes the Prime Minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee judge of the apex court.
Bhushan told the apex court that besides questioning Rao’s appointment as interim CBI chief, the NGO has sought appointment of a regular CBI director and transparency in the entire process.
He said the government has no right to appoint Rao as the interim CBI chief as it would be done only after taking approval of the high-powered committee.
“But in the event of a vacancy if say someone (CBI director) goes on leave, then how that vacancy will be filled?” the bench observed.
“You are 100% correct that appointment should be made by the committee,” the bench told Bhushan.
At this juncture, the bench asked the AG, “Why you (Centre) have not placed a regular director so far? CBI director is such a sensitive post. All this is going on since October. You already knew that the person (former director Alok Kumar Verma) was going to retire in January. You should have appointed a new director”.
Venugopal said the case was pending before the apex court and a judgement was delivered on the issue last month.
He said the committee has beforehand met once and the next meeting was scheduled for today (Friday).
The bench told the AG that arrangement of appointing an interim CBI director in the interregnum should not be taken.
“It cannot function on an ad-hoc basis. For seven, 10 or even 15 days we can understand. But not for longer period,” the bench said, adding, “CBI director is an important post”.
To this, the AG referred to the fight between Verma and the then special director of the agency Rakesh Asthana and said the 2 senior officers were fighting in public domain.
“The CBI was not functioning properly. Not only fighting, they had levelled corruption allegations against each other. That was wholly unbecoming of the CBI officers. We are averse to this arrangement. When are you going to do it? Tell us? Let us post this for Monday and we should not pass any order. The person in-charge is only an in-charge,” the bench said.
The Attorney General said that in the last meeting of the committee, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is a member of the high-powered panel, required some more details which have been given to him.
The bench saw that if a member of the committee wanted to verify something, “it is not bad”.
Bhushan told the court the Centre’s 23 October last year order appointing Rao as interim CBI chief was set aside by the apex court which had given a verdict in the case on 8 January.
“We have read that. The order (appointing Rao) was set aside. In the end, it is not an appointment,” the bench said.
Bhushan told if the allowance of the selection committee was taken before appointing Rao as interim CBI director, the issue of his appointment no longer endures.
He then argued that there should be transparency in the method of appointing CBI director.
Nonetheless, the bench observed that the 8 January verdict authored by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had dealt with the issue of transparency in the selection process and there were many other judgements of the apex court in the issue.
“You want an immediate appointment. Let us stop there. Let the appointment be made first. If you have any grievance that the method is not followed and transparency was not there then you can challenge it later,” the bench told Bhushan and posted the matter for further hearing on 6 February.