W.P. (C) 291/2021
Petition challenging the appointment of Interim Director, CBI
Common Cause has filed a petition seeking the appointment of a regular Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
As per the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, the appointment of a CBI director is made by a High Powered Committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde (or any Judge of Supreme Court nominated by CJI) and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
A proper appointment as per the statute is necessary for upholding the rule of law. The petition asks for issuing a direction to the Central Government to initiate the process of selecting a regular Director forthwith. Additionally, for future appointments, the petition prays for an order mandating the process of selection of the CBI Director to take place well in advance – at least a month or two before the date on which the vacancy shall occur.
The petition refers to Prakash Singh v. Union of India, (2019) 4 SCC 13, against the appointment of Director General of Police on an acting basis. Mr Bhushan argues in the petition that just like DGPs are heads of the police force in states and CBI Director leads the premier central investigating agency. Deriving the same ratio, the regular appointment must be done and interim appointments must be avoided at all costs. It also talks about Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India, (2019) 18 SCC 246, which discusses vacancies at Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions. The Supreme Court held in the case that the process for filling up a particular vacancy must be initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur in order to decrease the time-lag between the occurrence of the vacancy and filling it up.
In 2019, Common Cause had challenged the appointment of M Nageshwar Rao as Interim Director, CBI (W.P. (C) 54/2019) on similar grounds. Although a regular Director was appointed by the centre before the conclusion of the case, the Court had barred Rao from taking any policy decisions as the case was ongoing. On February 19, 2019, while declaring the decision of the case, the Court indicated that if due process is not followed in appointments, it is always open to any incumbency and the said appointments could be questioned in accordance with the law.
The term of the last incumbent, Rishi Kumar Shukla, was meant to end on February 2. While in extraordinary circumstances, the appointment of an Acting Director could be done, the present situation is a regular occurrence. The government failed to appoint a full-time Director and instead appointed Praveen Sinha as an interim/acting CBI Director. Praveen Sinha is supposed to be the acting CBI director till the high powered selection committee chooses a full-time Director, or “until further orders”. Reports have indicated that due to the ongoing agitation against the farm laws passed as well as the Budget Session the meeting of the High Powered Committee is delayed.
On March 12, 2021, notice returnable in two weeks was issued. The Court permitted the counsel to serve the Union of India by e-mail.
On April 5, 2021, a bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Vineet Sareen ordered the matter to be listed on April 16, 2021.
On April 19, 2021, the bench relisted the matter on May 13, 2021.