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~By Sujit Bhar

The issue about the selection of the chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been settled, for now. The Centre, on January 19, appointed Delhi Police Commissioner Alok Verma as the new CBI Director. It was decided by a three-member collegium, comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

While the prime minister and the chief justice said yes to the appointment, Kharge said no and gave a dissent note. The Congress’ version later was that it was a “wrong selection”.

When Anil Sinha retired on December 2, the government brought in Rakesh Asthana from the Gujarat cadre as interim chief. The opposition has been against this and the issue has been hanging fire for some time, with legal implications.

NGO Common Cause filed a PIL with the Supreme Court challenging this temporary appointment, saying this was the government’s “deliberate dereliction” of duty in not having convened a meeting of the collegium. The PIL said this was mandated under the law. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had stated: “The government took a series of steps in a completely malafide, arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Asthana was given the charge of CBI director.”

The contention was that the government did not convene a meeting of this collegium, despite knowing that Anil Sinha was to demit office on December 2.

The problem arose when Asthana, a 1984 batch officer, was promoted to the post of Additional Director of CBI, somewhat ahead of CBI Special Director R K Dutta, who was among the frontrunners for the top post. Dutta was an acceptable candidate for the opposition.  Dutta, instead, was moved to the Ministry of Home Affairs as a Special Secretary. This shift was effected two days before Sinha demitted office, and the petitioners see a pattern in this.

Kharge’s position was in line with his party, a senior member of which has said: “He (Dutta) was eligible for the Director’s post, but the government brought in someone from outside.”

Verma, the CBI’s 27th director, including two acting directors, is a 1979-batch IPS officer of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory cadre and seemed a candidate acceptable to both parties. He has been in the Vigilance Bureau, a just pre-qualification, and he was also director of Tihar Jail.

He will have a two-year term.

The PIL came up for hearing on Friday before the court of Justices Kurian Joseph and A M Khanwilkar. Replying to advocate Bhushan’s claim that procedures have not been followed and that there were no minutes of the meeting available, the attorney general said that the appointment has been done and the minutes of the meeting are being prepared.

The court agreed to it and said that Alok Kumar Verma has been appointed as the CBI Director; therefore nothing survives in this writ petition. As far as this writ petition is concerned, it has been disposed of.

Lead picture: CBI chief designate Alok Kumar Verma. Photo: UNI

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