New Delhi: Lok Sabha on Thursday passed two bills to fix the tenures of directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to a maximum of five years, with the government rejecting the opposition charge that the move will rob the investigative agencies of their “autonomy”.
The fixed tenure granted to the head of investigative agencies would help in speedy disposal of cases and bring down pendency, Minister of Personnel Jitendra Singh said in his reply to a debate on the Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
The two bills, which seek to replace the ordinances issued last month, were later passed separately by voice vote in Lok Sabha. The amendments moved by opposition members were rejected.
During the course of the debate, opposition members demanded that the bills be withdrawn, contending that the move would make the two agencies “sub-ordinate” to the government.
Singh said the term of the CBI and the ED directors has not been extended but fixed for a maximum of five years and minimum of two years to ensure that the position is not misused, he said.
He added that the changes have been made to ensure that investigation of the cases remains “stable” under their leadership.
“There will be continuity, stability. Certain information which is confidential with the head of an investigation agency will remain with him till the conclusion of the cases. This is going to address this (pendency of cases) issue,” Singh said.
The minister said the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany had an average tenure of 6-10 years but no fixed term, the Australian Federal Police has a tenure of seven years with a clause for extension, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has no fixed term but the average is 4-10 years.
Responding to questions on bringing ordinances, Singh said there were uncertainties about the functioning of Parliament as the last session was a washout.
“We had to move on. We could not wait for the protest to settle down because this is the provision that is going to reflect India’s image at the international forum. So that is the urgency for the country,” he said.
He said the change in the two laws were necessary as India needed to meet global standards.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has suggested that some of the countries should look into upgrading their capabilities, and law enforcement authorities maintain high professional standards, Singh said.
“If we have to meet the global standard and reach the global pedestal which India is already at the threshold of, we have to be more progressive and forward-looking,” he said.
He also rejected the opposition’s charge that the move will reduce transparency in the functioning of the investigative agencies, saying that the head of the CBI is appointed by a high-level committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition (or leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha) and the Chief Justice of India.
The opposition protested the government’s move, alleging it was “arbitrary” and without any logic.
“We have taken one small step to address all these issues and we will be taking more and expect support on those also,” Singh said while addressing concerns raised by Supriya Sule of the NCP.
Earlier, moving a statutory resolution for disapproval of the ordinances, Congress member Manish Tewari said those were “arbitrary, capricious”, and an “exercise of power”.
“Any democracy is as strong or as weak as the institutions that support it… Unfortunately, over the last seven-and-half years, this government has made every attempt to dismantle the system of checks and balances which are intrinsic to our constitutional scheme,” he alleged.
Before the two ordinances were promulgated, the directors of the CBI and the ED enjoyed a fixed tenure of two years from the date of their appointment in the wake of directives of the Supreme Court in the famous Vineet Narain case.
The ED director is appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a committee chaired by the Central Vigilance Commissioner and members comprising of Vigilance Commissioners, Home Secretary, Secretary DoPT and Revenue Secretary.
The fixed term of two years was aimed at ensuring the chiefs of CBI and ED work free from government interference without worrying about any adverse action for the probes carried out by them