The government’s top law officer — attorney general GE Vahanvati — has cautioned Parliament on its proposed move to include the chief justice of India (CJI) in the high-powered panel to be headed by the prime minister to appoint the CBI director.
GE Vahanvati’s opinion to the Rajya Sabha select committee, which examined the Lokpal bill, has been revealed in the documents tabled along with the report in the House.
His views come at a time when the Congress and the BJP are engaged in a bitter political fight over the appointment of Ranjit Sinha as the new chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The select committee has recommended that the CBI chief should not be appointed by the government and has proposed that a panel headed by the prime minister, with leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI as its members, should make the selection.
In response to a specific query by the select committee members on whether the CJI should be involved in the appointment of the CBI director, Vahanvati said:“If you ask me, I would say no.”
He also favoured the suggestion of replacing the CJI in the proposed selection panel with the Lokpal chairperson, who was likely to be a retired and not a serving CJI.
“I doubt whether any sitting chief justice of India will agree to be a Lokpal. That is why the option of sitting or retired CJI has been provided for in the bill,” the attorney general said.
The attorney general’s response followed apprehensions by several members of the select panel about a conflicting situation arising in case the CJI was involved in the appointment of the CBI chief, since the Supreme Court being the country’s final court of appeal, might have to adjudicate in matters related to the investigating agency and its director.
Asked by several members about the views of judges getting importance over other members from a non-judicial background in various selection panels, Vahanvati said the principle of majority should be applied in such situations.
“For example, in a collegium (selection panel) where the honorouble CJI or a judge is also a member, they should have a single vote like all other members and not primacy of opinion or dictating the proceedings,” the attorney general said.