CURRENT FOCUS

In a major victory for Common Cause, the Supreme Court on Aug 2, 2017, imposed a hundred percent penalty on mining companies indulging in illegal mining on account of lack of forest and environment clearances, mining outside lease/permitted area and for mining in excess of what has been allowed.

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REGULAR CBI DIRECTOR APPOINTED AFTER PIL

With the appointment of Mr. Alok Kumar Verma as the new CBI Director, post approval by the selection committee,  the Supreme Court closed the petition filed by Common Cause challenging the appointment of the interim Director of CBI in violation of established norms. The request of our counsel, Mr. Prashant Bhushan to the SC, to direct the Centre to place before the Court, the minutes of meeting of the committee to ensure compliance of the law laid down by the SC, was not heeded to, by the bench.  

Common Cause had approached the SC for a direction to the government for the appointment of a regular Director of the CBI in accordance with the law and with the landmark judgment in the Vineet Narain case (1998). It was contended that proper procedure as laid down in Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 was not followed.

The petition also sought the quashing of the appointment of Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat cadre officer as the Interim/Acting Director of the CBI on grounds that it was completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal.

The petition set out the importance of CBI as the “premier investigating agency of the country”. Regarding the CBI Director’s role, the petition stated that he 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, the Apex Court and later on Parliament have in the past 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.

The Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946 was amended in 2003 vide the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act, 2003 to state that the Director, CBI shall be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendations of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Vigilance Commissioners and two Secretaries to the Government of India. Subsequently, this mechanism was found insufficient to insulate the CBI Director and hence, the Act was further amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013. After the amendment, the Act now provides that, “CBI Director shall be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendations of a committee comprising a) the Prime Minister (Chairperson), b) the Leader of Opposition (Member), and c) the Chief Justice of India or any Judge of Supreme Court nominated by him (Member). The DSPE Act was further amended on Nov 11, 2014 to include the Leader of the single largest Opposition party in the said committee when there is no recognized Leader of Opposition.

The petition further pointed out that the previous Director, Anil Sinha’s tenure at the helm of CBI came to an end on December 2, 2016 and the Central government should have convened a meeting of the selection committee to appoint the new Director so as to ensure a smooth transition. The Centre failed to do so in a deliberate dereliction and complete violation of the amended DSPE Act.

The petition informed that Mr. Asthana has held several important positions in Gujarat Police and was also part of SIT set up by the Gujarat Government to probe the Godhra train burning case. Also, there have been irregularities in the premature transfer of RK Dutta, Special Director, CBI to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). A post of Special Secretary was specially created in the MHA to accommodate Mr. Dutta by upgrading the post of a Joint Secretary, which is two levels below the Special Secretary, since the Government clearly wanted him out of the CBI.

Common Cause had, therefore, prayed for a direction to be issued to the Central government to comply with the mandate of the law and call for the meeting of the selection committee as per the amended DSPE Act and setting aside of the ad hoc appointment of the Interim/Acting CBI Director. Also, the manner in which the statutory requirement of involving the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the largest Opposition party in the selection process was ignored and a handpicked person was given the important charge of Director CBI, ostensibly as an interim measure, deserved to be deprecated in the strongest terms.