A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha today, February 19, 2019, dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Common Cause and noted RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as the interim Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The plea also sought transparency in the process of short-listing, selection and appointment of the CBI Director.
Supreme Court observed “it is apparent from the decision of the committee under Section 4A that the Government was authorised to post a suitable officer as interim Director due to the vacancy caused by shifting of Mr. Alok Verma. Thus, the submission raised in the petition on behalf of the petitioners that the HPSC has not authorised the appointment of interim Director is totally misconceived and petitioners have failed to verify the aforesaid facts and the petition has been filed in undue haste without verifying the fact whether the appointment has been authorised by the Committee for appointment of Director constituted under section 4A of the DSPE Act”.
The Court further held “It is clear from the resolution passed by the Committee on 9/10th January, 2019 that the appointment of interim Director had been authorised by the Committee under section 4A. Thus, it cannot be said to be unauthorised and illegal in any manner whatsoever. The submission raised that the Selection Committee had not authorised the appointment of interim Director is fallacious on the face of the record and is misconceived in view of the said resolution. We need not go into the larger question whether in such exigency it was necessary to have such a resolution for the appointment of Interim Director by Selection Committee as that does not arise for decision in this case as Committee has passed the aforesaid resolution”.
On the issue of the appointment of regular director CBI, the court held “……We find that since the regular Director has been appointed the main prayer of the petitioner stands satisfied and there is absolutely no justification to continue with this writ petition in the aforesaid circumstances. In case the due process has not been followed in the appointment, it is always open to any incumbent, if so advised, to question the appointment in accordance with law but not in the routine manner and undue haste as shown in the petition”.
On the issue of lack of transparency, the court noted that petitioner has not taken recourse the procedure for appeal under the RTI Act, and therefore no ground to interfere in the matter is made out.
Background of the case
NGO Common Cause and noted RTI Activist Anjali Bharadwaj approached the Supreme Court of India seeking quashing of the appointment of IPC officer M Nageswara Rao as the interim Director of CBI. Rao was given charge of the office of the Director CBI by an order dated January 10, 2019 issued by the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet. The said order came to be issued after transfer of Alok Kumar Verma from the office of the Director by the High Powered Committee (HPC).
The HPC by a vote of 2:1 decided to transfer out Alok Verma. Mallikarjuna Kharge had dissented with the majority decision.
The Petitioners had contended that the order dated January 10, 2019 states that the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointment of M Nageshwar Rao “as per the earlier arrangement”. However, this earlier arrangement i.e. Order dated October 23, 2018 making Nageswara Rao interim CBI Director, had been quashed by the Supreme Court vide order dated January 8, 2019 as it was made in violation of the procedure for appointment of CBI Director as defined in the DSPE Act.
The Petitioners had also sought direction from the Court to ensure transparency in the process of short-listing, selection and appointment of the Director of the CBI. The lack of transparency in the appointment of the Director, CBI, prevented any public scrutiny of the appointment process and allows the government to exercise undue influence in the appointment process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates, said the petition.
After several recusals by different Benches, matter was finally heard on Feb 1 & 6, 2019 by a two judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha.