SC frowns on interim heads for CBI

Tells govt. such ‘ in-charge’ appointments cannot continue

April 05, 2021 03:49 pm | Updated 05:18 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The Supreme Court on Monday told the government that interim appointments to the post of CBI Director cannot go on.

“In-charge arrangements for CBI Director cannot go on,” a Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

The remark came during the hearing of a petition filed by Common Cause, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, objecting to the appointment of Praveen Sinha as interim CBI Director following the retirement of Rishi Kumar Shukla on February 2.

The petition said the government had failed to appoint a regular Director through the high-power selection committee of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition.

Mr. Venugopal said the meeting of the committee was deferred till after May 2.

Mr. Bhushan said the meeting should be called before May 2. He wondered aloud whether the government, by deferring the meeting, wanted to bypass the incumbent CJI, who is retiring on April 23.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta strongly objected to Mr. Bhushan's allegations. Mr. Mehta said the meeting had been deferred because of the Assembly elections in April.

However, the court finally agreed to hear the arguments from both sides in detail next week.

The Common Cause has argued that an interim appointment through an executive order was not envisaged in the statutory scheme of the 1946 Act. The CBI Director is a sensitive post. The Director is the final authority in the organisation in several sensitive investigations.

The premier investigative agency should function independently outside the pale of the Executive or political powers. The NGO said this was exactly why a high-powered committee selects the CBI Director.

The petition also highlighted the “determined efforts” of the Supreme Court in the past to “enhance the functional autonomy of the CBI and limit the extent of executive discretion in the matter if appointment of this key functionary”.

It also urged the court to direct the introduction of a mechanism to ensure that the process of selection of CBI Director is completed one or two months in advance of the retirement of the incumbent.

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