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CBI Director appointment: SC asks Centre to consider holding selection panel meet before May 2

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New Delhi, Apr 05: The Supreme Court Monday asked the Centre to consider convening before May 2 the meeting of a high-powered committee consisting of the Prime Minister and others for appointment of CBI director observing that "in-charge arrangements" for the post cannot go on.

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A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Vineet Saran was informed by the Centre that meeting of the committee -- consisting of the Prime Minister, leader of the single largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India or any judge of the apex court nominated by the CJI -- will be convened after May 2.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO 'Common Cause' which has sought direction for appointment of a regular CBI director, claimed before the bench that the Centre is delaying the meeting of the committee as it "wants to bypass" the present CJI S A Bobde who is retiring on April 23.

During the hearing, the bench orally observed that "in-charge arrangements" for CBI director cannot go on.

"There is a point in what Mr Bhushan says," the bench told Attorney General K K Venugopal, while referring to the prayer seeking regular appointment of the CBI Director.

Venugopal told the bench that the senior most person was appointed as CBI's interim director.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who also appeared in the matter, termed the arguments raised by the petitioner as "absurd" and alleged that "unscrupulous public spirited citizens are making accusations left, right and centre against individuals and institutions".

The bench said it would hear the matter on April 16.

On March 12, the top court had sought response from the Centre on the plea seeking direction for appointment of a regular CBI director.

The petitioner has alleged that the government has failed to appoint a regular CBI director as per section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, on the expiry of term of Rishi Kumar Shukla on February 2.

It said the government has instead appointed Praveen Sinha as an interim director of the premier investigating agency.

The plea has also sought a direction to the Centre to initiate and complete the process of selection of the CBI director well in advance, at least one to two months before the date on which the vacancy to the post is about to occur.

"The director of the CBI is the final authority in the organization. He supervises all the work in the CBI and is responsible for constitution of investigating teams for probing cases. Hence, this court and later on Parliament have made determined efforts to enhance the functional autonomy of the CBI director and limit the extent of executive discretion in the matter of appointment of this key functionary," it said.

The plea added that the appointment of regular CBI director as per the statutory law is necessary for upholding the rule of law and for enforcement of the rights of citizens under articles of the Constitution dealing with equality before law and protection of life and personal liberty.

The plea said the Centre has appointed Sinha as an interim/acting CBI director till the appointment of a new director or until further orders.

It said that appointment of CBI director has to be made on the recommendation of the committee consisting of the prime minister, leader of the single largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India or any judge of Supreme Court nominated by the CJI.

Referring to an earlier judgement of the apex court, the plea said the top court had directed that Director Generals of Police (DGP) in the states should have a minimum tenure of at least two years irrespective of his date of superannuation.

"DGPs are the heads of police force in states and CBI is the premier central investigating agency. Both the DGPs as well as the CBI director have a minimum tenure of two years, as per the existing law of the land," it said.

It said before Shukla's two-year term as the CBI director came to an end on February 2, it was "incumbent on the central government to call for a meeting of the selection committee for the appointment of his successor as per the law, well in advance, so as to ensure a smooth transition."

"However, the central government has instead, vide order dated February 3, 2021, appointed Praveen Sinha as an interim/acting CBI director till the appointment of new CBI director, or until further orders," it said.

It said that as per media reports, the Centre could not convene meeting of the selection committee even though it was fully aware that Shukla was going to demit office of the CBI director on February 2 this year.

"This deliberate dereliction was in complete violation of the DSPE Act, 1946, as amended by the Lokpal Act, 2013," it alleged.

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