New Delhi: A petition seeking to quash the appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as an interim director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was filed in the Supreme Court on Monday.
The plea by NGO Common Cause and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj claims the January 10 order through which Rao has been made interim director is in violation of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.
Noting that earlier as well, the October 23, 2018 order making him an acting director was later quashed by the SC, the plea calls for directions to ensure transparency in the process of appointment of CBI director.
‘Centre tried to stifle independence of CBI’
The petitioners charged that “the government of India has attempted to stifle the independence of the institution of the CBI by appointing the director of the CBI in an arbitrary and illegal manner.”
Further, they submitted, “the lack of transparency in the process of appointment prevents any meaningful 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 petition also accused the Centre of repeatedly undermining the process of appointment of functionaries of various independent bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission and Information Commissions.
It said such orders have been challenged before the Supreme Court on account of the appointment process being undermined as it happened behind a cloak of secrecy.
In such cases, the petition said: “the court has given various directions to ensure transparency in the process of short-listing, selection and appointment of such functionaries.”
SC urged to issue ‘appropriate writ for appointment’ of CBI director
Therefore, the petitioners also sought the quashing of the “illegal appointment” of Rao. They also urged the Supreme Court to issue an “appropriate writ for appointment of a Director, CBI as per the procedure established by law and appropriate directions to ensure transparency in the process of short-listing, selection and appointment of the Director of the CBI.”
The petition said the DSPE Act, amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, provides for the appointment of the CBI director by a high-powered selection committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice of India or any judge of Supreme Court nominated by him.
‘Selection Committee bypassed in Rao’s appointment’
In the case of Rao, the petition stated that “it appears that this particular committee has been completely bypassed” by the Centre – which has “arbitrarily and without any jurisdiction” appointed him as interim director. It also noted that this appointment was “apparently not made on the basis of recommendations” of the selection committee.
Pointing out how the January 10 order stated that the appointment committee of the cabinet approved the appointment of Rao “as per the earlier arrangement”, the petition recalled how this earlier arrangement, which was the order of October 23, 2018, making Rao interim CBI director, had been quashed by the Supreme Court on January 8 this year.
It said the apex court found it to be in violation of the procedure for appointment of CBI director as defined in the DSPE Act.
However, the petition lamented that the Centre still invoked its earlier order – which had been quashed – to once again make Rao the interim director.
In order to prevent arbitrary interference in the functioning of the CBI, especially with respect to the director, the petition said the Supreme Court has given specific directions and the parliament made amendments to the DSPE Act for appointment through a high-powered committee.
‘No mechanism for transparency in the short-listing, selection of director’
Noting that this selection committee was “adequately balanced and certain provisions exist to safeguard the functional autonomy of the director of CBI,” the petition noted that nevertheless “there are no specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of short-listing, selection and appointment.”
It said, “the lack of transparency in the appointment of the director, CBI, allows the government to exercise undue influence in the appointment process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates.”
On the importance of the issue, the petition insisted that “transparency in the selection process, especially in terms of safeguarding against undue government interference, is key to ensure the proper functioning of the CBI and in the fight against graft and corruption. Lack of transparency prevents any public scrutiny of the appointment process.”