‘Decision to pick a new full-time director would be taken before end of this month’.

 

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been functioning under an ad-hoc director for more than 100 days, the longest time period in the history of the investigative agency when it has gone without a full-time director.

The present interim director, Praveen Sinha, a 1988 Gujarat cadre IPS officer, who was holding the post of Additional Director of the agency, was asked by the government to “start looking after the duties of Director, CBI,” after the tenure of former Director Rishi Shukla ended on 3 February this year.

Shukla was appointed as the agency director on 4 February 2019 following the Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana fiasco, to replace the then interim director M. Nageswara Rao, who was asked to temporarily take care of the said post by the Union government on 10 January 2019 before Shukla replaced him as a full-time director less than 25 days later.

The tenure of a CBI director is fixed for two years, and the newly appointed director will be in the position till May 2023 just months before the 2024 general elections are held.

Officials said that the decision to appoint the new full-time director would be taken “soon” and before the “end of this month” while ascribing to the unprecedented delay in announcing the new director to the “Covid-19” situation in the country and the unavailability of Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The director of the CBI, under the provisions of Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, is selected by a High Powered Committee (HPC) comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha from a small list of “eligible” officers who are selected on the basis of seniority and experience in investigation of anti-corruption cases. This selection committee, comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, is expected to meet soon, officials said.

As per official sources, names of multiple IPS officers from the 1984, 1985 batch are in consideration for the said post. However, the government might go for “safe” eligible names from other batches due to the weak political position it is in wake of its Covid-19 handling rather than push for any “favourite’ officer whose appointment will lead to avoidable controversies.

On 19 April, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition seeking the regular appointment of a CBI Director, that this HPC committee could not be convened till 2 May as Chowdhury had told the government that he will not be available till then.

Choudhury, despite repeated messages and calls from The Sunday Guardian, seeking why there was a delay, if any, on his part, to take part in the HPC, did not share his response on the matter.

According to agency officials, progress in many politically sensitive cases that are expected to become “active” in the wake of the recent developments across the country are not moving ahead because lack of a full-time agency director. “The investigation part in several politically sensitive cases has already been completed for the last few months, but they can only move to the next phase once the top officials of the agency study it thoroughly and pass it through all the relevant hoops. For that, a full time director is needed.