New Delhi: Amid opposition, the Narendra Modi government Thursday introduced and passed two bills in the Lok Sabha to extend the tenures of the heads of the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation to five years.
The bills will now be taken up in the Rajya Sabha.
Union Minister of State Dr Jitendra Singh, who introduced the bills in the Lok Sabha, said the government would not have the liberty to grant extensions, a concern that many opposition leaders raised in the House. Rather, the selection committee that appoints these officers would do so.
Singh said the legislation would “streamline the process of extensions and limit it to five years, and was in the “interest of confidentiality and in light of international ramifications”.
The minister said the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021, should be looked at in context of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international money laundering and terror finance watchdog. The FATF requires law enforcement authorities to have adequate human and technical resources and rise up to the level of other countries.
The Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and The Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021, will replace an ordinance that the government brought in on 14 November. This extended the tenure of the two agency chiefs to five years, allowing three one-year extensions after the completion of two years in office. Before the ordinance, the two posts came with a fixed two-year tenure.
Jitendra Singh further said that according to existing laws, the directors of the ED and the CBI are to hold office for not less than two years. However, the acts do not fix an upper limit, which is now being extended and streamlined by limiting it to five years.
Opposition parties — including the Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) — opposed the bills, saying that they were nothing but a “dangling carrot” for senior officers, “arbitrary” and “against the Constitution”.
The Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party supported the bills.
‘Capricious, colourable exercise of power’
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Manish Tewari said the two bills were “arbitrary, capricious and a colourable exercise of power”.
“These bills, when they become law, will not only fall foul of the Supreme Court judgment in the Jain Hawala case, but there are larger issues also with regard to the legality of the CBI, as also the Delhi Special Police, which has the anti-corruption remit,” Tewari said.
It was the 1997 Supreme Court judgment in Vineet Narain vs Union of India, known as the Jain Hawala case, that fixed the minimum tenure of CBI and ED directors at two years.
“Any democracy is as strong or as weak as the institutions that support it, and I say it with regret that unfortunately, over the past year, this government has made every attempt to dismantle the system of checks and balances that are intrinsic to our constitutional scheme. These bills are yet another milestone in that direction,” Tewari said.
Tewari further said that the bills seek to “subordinate what the Supreme Court had contemplated to be an independent and autonomous organisation, which will be completely subservient to the government”.
“Why two years was fixed for this post was to ensure that the heads of these organisations are insulated from any type of government interference, and moreover, ensure that the hierarchies of these organisations do not get disturbed. People who are qualified to hold these positions also get a chance,” he said.
‘Drip by drip extensions are like hanging carrots’
Tewari also said that giving three one-year extensions “drip by drip” after completion of two years was like “dangling a carrot before the officers”.
“Basically, the government is telling these officers ‘do as we say and get extensions’,” he said.
NCP leader Supriya Sule also asked how increasing the tenure of the two chiefs would bring in “good governance, transparency and integrity”.
“Just by changing one tenure, how will you bring about these changes? By just one change of position, how can the capacity of the organisation be changed? How will it lead to integrity or a robust process?” she asked.
She also asked why the legislation was silent on issues such as cryptocurrency and the dark web, and why it was being passed in such haste.
To this, Minister Singh replied, “Everything has a process. We have to start somewhere. We will be bringing more changes.”
Questioning the criterion for extending these officers’ tenures, Sule said, “We have always followed the two-year formula. I see no reason why this one-plus-one year will help. And on what merit will this be given? What criteria will be there to give extensions?”
To this, Singh replied that the extensions would be decided by the selection committee that appoints these officers. In the case of the CBI director, this includes the prime minister, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.
The ED director is appointed on the recommendation of a committee with the central vigilance commissioner as chairperson. The other members are secretaries in the finance (revenue), home, and personnel and training ministries.
The bills, Sule said, makes the government look “vindictive and not transparent”.
“This bill is making you look vindictive and not transparent. It tells these officers that unless you are loyal to the king, you are not getting a promotion,” she said.
TMC leader Sougata Roy called the Bills mala fide.
“These are like hanging carrots before the donkeys heading these agencies. This is a clear violation of all principles of the Constitution,” he said.
‘Undermining SC judgment’
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi called the act of bringing in first the ordinance and then the bills an “audacious attempt to undermine the Supreme Court judgment”. The court had ruled in September that no further extension be granted to the current ED chief.
“These two bills are in contravention of the SC judgment. This is also an issue of independence of investigating authorities. Fixed tenure cannot be on the whims and desires of the present prime minister,” Owaisi said.
“The CBI was called the caged parrot by the honourable court’s observation, but this ordinance wants to take away the vocal cords of the CBI,” he added.
Owaisi said extension of tenure would be given as baksheesh (reward).
“Post cannot be treated as a patronage. The power to investigate has become the power to harass,” he said.
Pointing to the Babri Masjid demolition case as an example, Owaisi said, “The CBI was investigating the criminal case of demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the court exonerated all the accused. Why didn’t you file an appeal? You didn’t file an appeal because the CBI officers owe their existence to their ideological political masters.”
He added, “But you will file an appeal against Raja. Why? Because he is a Dalit,” he said, referring to the fact that the CBI has appealed against the acquittal of former Union minister A. Raja in the 2G spectrum allocation case.
“This government is not reading the writing on the wall. You are not going to be there (in power) forever,” Owaisi said.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called the government’s intent “ominous”. He said the government was giving precedence to the “culture of subservience”.
“You should not tinker with this premier investigation agency only to serve the baritone and parochial interest of this present dispensation,” he said.
A. Raja himself also opposed the bill, saying it would destroy the “integrity” of the organisations and that repeated extension would open up possibilities for “political interference”. Raja said senior positions would become “positions for loyal returns”.
(edited by Rohan Manoj)