Package envisaged by government is a ‘camouflage’, says BJP leader

Dubbing a ‘farce’ the government proposal to bestow greater autonomy on the CBI, on a Supreme Court directive, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has said the contemplated package goes back even on the recommendations accepted by the Union Cabinet in January.

In April last week, the court, hearing a case on the CBI sharing its status report in the coal block allocation case with the then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar (who quit his job subsequently under pressure from several quarters), directed the government to submit an affidavit spelling out ways to liberate the investigating agency from political interference.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up a Group of Ministers to prepare a report for submission to the court in the first week of July. Last week, the Cabinet approved the GoM recommendations.

These recommendations include greater financial powers to the agency, a provision for time-bound sanction to investigate government officials, appointment of a Director by a collegium and the constitution of a panel of retired judges which will monitor investigations and ensure that there is no extraneous influence.

In a write-up released here on Sunday, Mr. Jaitley said the package envisaged by the government was a ‘camouflage’, as it created an illusion by removing the political executive and creating a proxy institution instead, thereby making the remedy worse than the problem.

The BJP leader pointed out that the Select Committee, which had looked at the Lokpal Bill, unanimously made several recommendations to ensure greater autonomy to the CBI and these were approved by the Cabinet in January. “Let the government place before the Supreme Court the recommendations of the Select Committee, the Cabinet decision of 31st January, 2013 along with the suggestions of other political parties which would result in ensuring immunity to the CBI from political interference.”

Mr. Jaitley contended that the package would have ensured appointment of a Director by an independent process, and separation of a Directorate of Prosecution which would function independently rather than be just an officer on deputation from the Law Ministry.

It would have ensured a fixed term for these high offices; there would be no fear or favour inasmuch as senior officers of the CBI were concerned since besides enjoying a fixed tenure, they would not be eligible for re-employment in the government. The power of superintendence and direction of the CBI would vest in the Lokpal, with the Supreme Court being the appellate authority.

The package had envisaged that officers investigating sensitive cases would not be transferred without Lokpal permission; besides the panel of advocates appearing for advising the CBI would be independent of government lawyers since there had been considerable politicisation of appointments of government advocates and law officers.

When the Supreme Court asked the government to file an affidavit on the subject there was an existing decision which it just had to place before the court, Mr. Jaitley said. But the GoM’s recommendation and its approval by the Cabinet ignored all the above suggestions and now merely made the CBI accountable to a panel of retired judges.

“Who will select these retired judges to whom the CBI will be accountable? There are retired judges and retired judges. Many are men of integrity wedded to judicial values. Yet, there are many who are perpetually seeking post-retirement jobs. Retired judges are an unaccountable institution. Post-retirement jobs dished out to many retired judges have almost become an entitlement. Pre-retirement conduct at times has been influenced by the desire to get a post-retirement job,” Mr. Jaitley maintained.

Alleging that the UPA had ensured its longevity by misusing the CBI, Mr. Jaitley said the role of the agency in investigating corruption cases against the leaders of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had only ensured their continued to support the UPA. “The role of the CBI in framing charges against BJP leaders in Gujarat and Rajasthan has demonstrated that the CBI is acting in order to serve the dictates of the party in power.”

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