Opposition assails govt over ordinances brought in to extend tenures of CBI, ED directors

Ordinances to extend tenures of directors of CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) had to be brought because the government was not sure the Opposition would allow the Parliament to run and India’s image was at stake in the international forum, MoS for Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Dr Jitendra Singh said on Thursday in the Lok Sabha.

“It was brought through the ordinance route as there was no surety that the session will function. The last session was totally washed out. This (legislation) was going to reflect on the image of India in international forum. That was the urgency,” Singh said while replying to a debate on two bills to amend the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE) and the Central Vigilance Commission Act.

The two bills were brought to replace two Ordinances that on November 14 granted a maximum tenure of five years to directors of the CBI and the ED with provisions of fixed two year tenure and three extensions of one year each if the government so desired. The ordinances came three days before ED chief SK Mishra’s tenure was to end.

The Minister was replying to allegations that the ordinance was brought 15 days before the commencement of Parliament just to help Mishra get another extension.

To Singh’s “washout” argument, RSP MP NK Premchandran, who had moved a statutory resolution against the ordinances, pointed out that the government had passed 21 legislations in the session it says was washed out.

In an attempt to alley fears that the agencies’ independence would be compromised through the Bills, Singh said, “PM holds CBI, CVC and other institutions in very high esteem. The independence of these institutions is the government’s top priority. Facilitating and enabling the functioning of these institutions is also our priority. …In these eight years there has not been a single allegation of corruption against ministers of the Modi government. All are from previous governments.”

On the criticism that government was dangling a carrot before the officers through arbitrary extensions, Singh said, “The extensions will not be arbitrary as it will be made by the same process by which the appointment has been made. The committee has leader of opposition in it (along with the PM and the CJI) and we have walked the extra mile to accommodate as you did not have the numbers (to claim the position of LoP).”

Singh went on to argue that the tenure was in fact not being extended but limited.

“The tenure has not been extended. Rather, we have now put a limit to the tenure of CBI and ED directors, which was not there earlier. Earlier it was ‘not less than two years’. It was done in the interest of stability. To make that stability more concrete, we extended the tenure to five years and put a limit there so that it is not misused. We have institutionalised that clause,” Singh said.

He also pointed out police systems in various democracies such as US, UK and Australia where police chiefs of various agencies have long tenures.

Participating in the debate, Congress leader Manish Tewari called the bills “arbitrary, capricious and …colourable exercise of power”.

“Not only will they (when enacted) fall foul of the SC judgement in the Jain Hawala Case, there are larger issues with regard to the very legality of the CBI. …Over the past seven and a half years this government has made every attempt to dismantle the system of checks and balances which are intrinsic to our constitutional scheme. These bills are yet another milestone in that direction,” Tewari said.

Tewari said that the reason the tenure of the two directors was fixed at two years was to insulate them from the influence of the government. “By increasing the tenure up to five years drip by drip, you are basically dangling a carrot before these officers. You are basically saying keep doing what we tell you to do and keep getting extensions,” he said adding that the government should actually fix the tenure for five years.

“These bills strengthen the perception that the CBI, ED and IT are front organisations of the govt to harass the opposition,” he said.

Alleging that the ordinances had been brought just to favour one officer, Premchandran said, “You had already extended the tenure of SK Mishra. The Supreme Court ratified it but said the tenure will not be extended any further. So it is clear that the intent of the ordinance is to invalidate the directive of the SC, that too for a particular officer. This is abuse of constitutional power.”

AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi said fixed tenures could not be on the basis of whims and desires of the present PM. “These ordinances have in-built mechanism of control in them so that both the directors subordinate themselves to the government. You are creating such a system of control that every political party will use it. You will not be in power always,” he said.

Owaisi said the power to investigate had been replaced by the power to harass. “The CBI was investigating the demolition of Babri Masjid and the court acquitted all the accused. The CBI didn’t even file an appeal. But you file an appeal against A Raja, because he is a Dalit,” he said.

DMK’s A Raja, who was acquitted in the 2G spectrum allocation case of the CBI, said the bills would destroy the institutional integrity.

“At midnight the CBI director was removed from his office in 2018. Now the government is saying we are bringing this Bill to make CBI Director more independent and efficient, who will believe? …ED and CBI raids are conducted at the time of elections. IT raid was conducted at MK Stalin’s daughter’s residence on the eve of Tamil Nadu elections. A former deputy CM of Maharashtra with CBI, ED cases joined BJP. The cases were put in cold storage and he was brought to Rajya Sabha,” Raja said.

BJP MP Rajyavardhan Rathod rejected the idea of fixed five-year tenure. “The Opposition has got used to quota system. They see no merit in performance. Till the tenure is fixed for two years, the selection committee is independent. When there is extension the committee becomes dependent? What kind of an argument is that?”

TMC’s Kalyan Banerjee said, “Do not throttle the voice of the Opposition by misusing your power. Do not pick them up just before elections. CBI and ED become more effective when general elections come. Any opposition political party that speaks against the government are arrested and victimised.”

NCP’s Supriya Sule urged the government to stop CBI and ED from going after families of political opponents. “(Former Maharashtra Home Minister) Anil Deshmukh’s house and family were raided seven times in a year. What did you miss in earlier raids that you had to go seven times? Why are families being targeted? In case of (Eknath) Khadse, his senior citizen wife was called for questioning. You want to make a political attack, make one, don’t go after families. Two BJP MPs were caught on camera saying that CBI and ED will not go after them because they were in BJP,” she said.

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