Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge has accused the government of “manipulating” the process of selecting the CBI director by appointing a junior officer to head the premier investigating agency.
The government did not name a full-time chief but ordered last week Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana to hold additional charge as CBI director after Anil Kumar Sinha retired on December 2.
Asthana, who supervised the initial investigation into the Godhra train burning incident when he was inspector general of police, Vadodara range, is said to be close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, both from Gujarat.
In a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister Modi on Monday, Kharge said the government did not convene a meeting of the panel that approves the appointment of the CBI director.
The government circumvented this process by giving the 1984-batch officer additional charge. The law does not lay down any procedure for an ad hoc appointment, Kharge said.
The CBI chief is selected through a collegium comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition or the largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India.
Kharge is a panel member for being the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
He alleged that the government “vitiated and manipulated the process to preempt the decision” to be arrived at the panel’s meeting. The CBI’s credibility demands that “a meritorious and experienced officer of requisite seniority” be appointed as its head, he said.
After the NDA government came to power in 2014, it refused to accord the leader of the opposition’s post citing that the Congress with 44 parliamentarians did not meet the criteria — 10% of the strength of the 543-member Lok Sabha. However, it gave in following protests.
Sources said Kharge was particularly infuriated at the way the government foisted Asthana, who had joined the CBI this April. He wasn’t even the senior-most officer when Sinha retired; 1981-batch officer RK Dutta was.
Dutta was edged out to a post created to accommodate him in the home ministry.
“It now appears that this was done deliberately to facilitate giving the charge of the post of CBI director to an officiating junior officer,” Kharge wrote and asked Modi to convene a selection panel meeting immediately.
Asthana’s appointment has been challenged in the Supreme Court, which agreed on Wednesday to hear the plea on December 9.