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New twist to CBI chief's appointment

By Vinay Kumar

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 1. The process of appointment of a regular director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is poised to take a few twists and turns with the country's two top law officers expressing divergent views on the Supreme Court's observations on the Andhra Pradesh police chief, Mr. H.J. Dora, a front-runner for the job.

Mr. Dora was among the three panelists named by the selection committee in April this year for appointment as CBI director. The views of the Attorney-General, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, and the Solicitor-General, Mr. Harish N. Salve, are sure to cast their shadow as the committee headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr. N. Vittal, undertakes a fresh exercise to name a new panel.

The selection committee, which also consists of the Home Secretary and Secretary (Personnel), has reportedly been asked by the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, to come up with a fresh set of three names for consideration by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

As the earlier panel of Mr. Vittal ran into controversy, the Government named Mr. P.C. Sharma, special director, as acting CBI director. Mr. Sharma took over as acting director upon the retirement of Mr. R.K. Raghavan on April 30.

At the heart of the controversy regarding Mr. Vittal's panel were the observations made by the Supreme Court in April which noted that Mr. Dora, who passed the TADA proceedings in cases dating back to 1994-95 in Hyderabad as police commissioner, had exercised his power ``in a very casual manner.''

The Special Leave Petition (SLP) reached hearing in the apex court on July 17 and was dismissed as withdrawn as it was not pressed by the Andhra Pradesh Government.

Mr. Sorabjee, said Mr. Dora did not appear personally or through his counsel in response to the notice issued by the Supreme Court. ``It is also noteworthy that there was no application before the Supreme Court to delete or expunge its prima facie observations on Mr. Dora having exercised his powers ``in a very casual manner.''

In his opinion to the Government, the discharge of notice and withdrawal of the SLP by Andhra Pradesh ``do not result in setting aside or obliterating the prima facie observations of the Supreme Court in its previous order.'' Even upon withdrawal of the SLP, the adverse finding against Mr. Dora recorded by the Sessions Judge in his May 21, 1996, order stood, he said.

The Supreme Court's observations on Mr. Dora in its April 17 order, though prima facie, remain intact and ``cannot be ignored and should be given due weight and consideration in the matter of selection of the CBI director,'' he added.

A diametrically-opposite view has been expressed by the Solicitor-General, Mr. Harish N. Salve, whose opinion was sought by the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Mr. Salve said the observation of the Designated Court that Mr. Dora had ``mechanically accorded sanction to prosecute the accused'' under the TADA provisions as well as the Arms Act was more criticism of the order on legal grounds rather than a stricture on the person who passed the order.

Mr. Salve said Mr. Dora's affidavit before the apex court had pointed out that he had more than enough material on which he could have granted the sanction for prosecution of the accused persons under TADA. Since the notice to Mr. Dora stood discharged, ``the observation of the Designated Court cannot be treated as a personal stricture, much less an adverse comment on the functioning of Mr. Dora.''

In his opinion, the Supreme Court had discharged the notice which it had issued to Mr. Dora and there was no proceeding as such in which he was involved. ``It was a suo motu notice issued by the court to him. Once this notice is discharged, nothing survives in the matter as far as he is concerned. Once the notice is discharged, the issuance of the notice is not a matter which can be held against him in any manner,'' Mr. Salve said.

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