PM Narendra Modi-led panel to meet today to pick new CBI director

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led committee to select the next CBI director will meet on Friday, a week after the last attempt to choose a name from the 79 candidates failed.

The high-powered panel with the leader of Congress, the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as its members had met on January 24.

That meeting to decide on the next chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) remained inconclusive even though the panel discussed the 79 names put up before it in two lists — one with 19 names and the other with 60. Kharge insisted on getting detailed background information of the officers, people familiar with the development said on the condition of anonymity.

“The next meeting of the panel on selection of the CBI chief will take place on February 1 at around 6 pm,” Kharge said while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

The federal agency has been working under interim director M Nageswara Rao after Alok Verma was removed as its chief on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty by the committee headed by Prime Minister Modi. Rao’s appointment has also been challenged in the top court.

The meeting of the panel comes after three Supreme Court judges, including CJI Gogoi, top court’s number 2 Justice AK Sikri and Justice NV Ramana recused themselves from hearing the petition challenging Rao’s appointment as the CBI interim director.

NGO Common Cause has claimed that Rao’s appointment was not based on the recommendation of the selection panel and, thus, in complete contravention of the law. The petitioners have sought appointment of a regular chief of the agency.

They also want all records of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the CBI director to be made available under the transparency law.

They have also asked for the entire process of selection, including the composition of the panel, its mandate and minutes of the meeting of the search committee to be made public.

Alok Verma and his deputy, CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, were engaged in a feud that affected the agency’s functioning. Asthana levelled charges of corruption against Verma in a letter to the cabinet secretary in August last year.

CBI filed a first information report (FIR) against Asthana in October last year. On the intervening night of October 23 and 24, the government divested both of their powers. Rao took charge as the interim director for the first time on the intervening night of October 23 and 24.

Verma challenged the government order in the top court and it conditionally reinstated him as the CBI chief on January 8, saying that only the selection panel could remove him. The panel decided by a majority decision of 2-1 to remove Verma on January 10.

Officers from the four oldest serving batches of the Indian Police Service, from 1982 to 1985, are in contention for the post of CBI director as per the guidelines set by the Supreme Court. Their suitability for the job will depend on criteria such as seniority, integrity and experience in the investigation of anti-corruption cases.

Sources have told the Hindustan Time that the name of the agency’s former special director Rakesh Asthana was in the list of 60. He is now serving as the head of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

HT further learned that details of the names on the shortlist, including their past experience, postings, etc, were not provided and that when Kharge pointed this out, Prime Minister Modi, the head of the panel, agreed that this should be made available.

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