Centre Refuses to Explain Why it Changed Tenure Term for New CBI Chief Jaiswal

The Supreme Court and Delhi Special Police Establishment Act provided for a minimum term of two years.

New Delhi: The Centre has refused to reveal why it arbitrarily changed the tenure of the new director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which used to be a minimum of two year, by inserting the words “until further orders”.

Before the new incumbent Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, the Narendra Modi government had made the appointments of three previous CBI chiefs – Anil Sinha, Alok Verma and Rishi Kumar Shukla – on the earlier norms.

On May 25, a note issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) stated that “the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has, based on the panel recommended by the Committee, approved the appointment of Shri Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, IPS (MH:1985), as Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a period of two years from the date of assumption of charge of the office or until further orders whichever is earlier.”

In response to this order, Haryana-based lawyer and RTI activist Hemant Kumar had filed a right to information (RTI) application with the DoPT on June 4, seeking “information regarding the inclusion or usage of the words – “or until further orders whichever is earlier” – in the order issued by the Secretariat of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet”.

Kumar wrote in the application that “As per Section 4B (I) of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the CBI Director shall, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the rules relating to his conditions of service, continue to hold office for a period of not less than two years from the date on which he assumes office.”

In response to his query, the DoPT in a letter, stamped June 14, replied that “the information asked by you is query / clarificatory in nature and to clarify or to interpret is beyond the scope of information as defined under Section 2(f) of RTI Act, 2005.”

Reacting to the reply, Kumar said he never asked for a clarification as the DoPT made it out to be but had only sought details on the words that were used in the department order for specifying the tenure of the CBI director.

Supreme Court had directed minimum two-year tenure for CBI chief

Earlier, Kumar had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to highlight how the tenure of the CBI director as provided in the order of the Appointments Committee not only violated the provisions of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, but also Supreme Court’s guidelines, which had clearly spelt out a minimum term of two years for the head of the premier investigating agency.

In a statement, he had also pointed out that the appointment of the CBI director is made by a three-member committee which has the prime minister as the chairman, the Chief Justice of India or his appointee as a member, and the leader of opposition or the leader of largest opposition party in Lok Sabha as the third member.

Also read: Text of Centre’s Notification Appointing New Director Ensures CBI Remains a ‘Caged Parrot’

Kumar had pointed out that in December 1997, the Supreme Court had in the case of Vineet Narain versus Union of India clearly stated that the minimum tenure of the CBI director will be of two years irrespective of the age of superannuation of the incumbent. Therefore, he said, it was a matter of investigation why in the case of the new director the Centre inserted the words “or until further orders whichever is earlier” while specifying the tenure.

In the letter to Modi as well as minister for personnel and training Jitender Kumar, the advocate-activist had also recalled how in the appointments of other CBI directors before Jaiswal, the Modi government had not inserted any such clause has stated that the term.

Kumar said before Jaiswal when the Modi government had in February 2019 appointed Rishi Kumar Shukla as the CBI director it had adhered to the norm of a minimum two year term. Prior to that at the time of appointment of Alok Verma in February 2017 as also Anil Sinha in December 2014, he said, the appointment note had also mentioned a minimum two year tenure.

Kumar said while the Central government was competent enough to amend the DSPE Act 1946, since the Supreme Court had in Vineet Narain laid down the minimum tenure for the CBI chief, changes to the appointment norms would apply only when the apex court reviews its earlier decision.

‘Verma episode may have been the trigger for change in tenure’

On the reasons behind the Centre’s move to restrict the tenure of the CBI chief this time, Kumar said in October 2018 when the then CBI Director was divested of his powers and roles by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Centre, well before his term was due to expire in February 2019, and his then Joint Director M. Nageswara Rao was made the interim CBI chief, Verma had approached the Supreme Court.

The apex court had on January 8, 2019 set aside all the orders pertaining to Verma because they did not have the approval of the three-member selection committee. The selection committee, led by the prime minister, later met on met on January 10, 2019 and sacked Verma, who had only the previous day resumed office on court orders. The Committee posed Verma as Director General of Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards for the remaining period of his term that was to end on January 31, 2019.

However, the episode appears to have had a bearing on the Centre’s thinking about setting the tenure of the CBI chief.