Finance minister Arun Jaitley cited on Friday a "gap in law" vis-a-vis the government's power to remove the CBI director even as incumbent Ranjit Sinha seemed disinclined to step down after the Supreme Court's indictment against him in the 2G spectrum probe.
The minister said his "conscience is clear" on the issue because he, in his previous capacity as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and his Lok Sabha counterpart Sushma Swaraj had registered their objection to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh within hours of Sinha's appointment.
"You have to look at the legal regime. I was looking at the law that applies whether it's a gap in law or otherwise. We have to seriously examine who has the powers to do that because the collegium is the new appointing authority," said Jaitley at the 12th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
Arun Jaitley speaks during the session 'Making India a Superpower: Hope or Fantasy?' at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Friday. (Arvind Yadav/ HT Photo)
The minister, who also holds the corporate affairs and the information and broadcasting portfolios, was responding to a query by HT Editor-in-Chief Sanjoy Narayan, who was chairing the session, whether the government was thinking of asking Sinha to step down following the apex court's ruling.
Jaitley took a swipe at the UPA for "effectively" using institutions such as the CBI and the directorate of enforcement "to contrive a majority in Parliament".
He said the governments have to be very careful about making appointments to such institutions because people have a lot of faith in them.
"Just look at what we have done to an institution like the CBI. There was a time when there would be a difficult investigation, demands would be that just send it to the CBI as if gospel truth would come.
"And then, you had appointments made so that you had a pliable directors and convenient people," he said.
He recalled how Sinha was appointed hours before a parliamentary standing committee recommended a collegium system for appointment of the CBI director. "In fact, my conscience is clear because within hours of this appointment, I along with my colleague Mrs Swaraj had written to the Prime Minister asking on what criteria he had done it."
The finance minister also spelt out the government's agenda for the winter session of Parliament, beginning on Monday. He outlined the passage of the insurance bill, the coal bill and the introduction of the GST bill as key priorities.
Jaitley said the select committee is working "in the right direction" on the insurance bill.
Spelling out the reforms priorities of the government, he said "some groups" were already thinking of "blocking" them. "I am already in touch with the principal opposition party. I hope people will learn from their past mistakes," he said.
Asked about political risks in pushing reforms, he said the NDA already has a majority in the Lok Sabha. "In any case, if the two Houses are taken together we are in a comfortable majority," said Jaitley, indicating that the government could consider joint sessions of Parliament if the opposition blocks key bills.
He hinted at the possibility of restructuring the LPG subsidy regime, questioning the rationale behind privileged sections availing themselves of subsidised cooking gas.
"Merely conferring rights without adequate resource backing them, makes no difference. The governments lost the polls in Haryana, Rajasthan where doles were distributed while states which turned around (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh), the governments were voted back to power," he said, taking a dig at the previous UPA regime.