The BJP has taken exception to the appointment of Archana Ramasundaram, a Tamil Nadu IPS officer of the 1980 batch, as an Additional Director of the CBI. The party’s objection is on the grounds that her choice was against the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), who had suggested RK Pachananda of the West Bengal Cadre for the post. According to reports, the latter was turned down by the PMO despite the CVC’s repeated preference for him. I am told the CVC is exercised about this, and that he may not recognise Archana’s posting to the CBI if and when it is ordered.
The BJP sees a ghost in this. I am not very sure whether the party is correct in questioning the government decision. I know that Archana is a competent officer. I don’t know Pachananda. It is possible he is as good as Archana, and has an even better record. I endorse the PMO’s stand on two grounds. First, Archana is senior to Pachananda by three years. Secondly, I have serious reservations with regard to the CVC’s authority in the matter. According to Section 4 © (1) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 (as amended by the CVC Act 2003) the Committee headed by the CVC and comprising the other two Members of the Commission, Union Home Secretary and the Secretary (Coordination and Public Grievances) to Government of India will ‘recommend” officers for the appointment of and above the rank of Superintendent of Police in the CBI after consulting the CBI Director. Section 4© (2) of the same Act reads: “On receipt of the recommendation under sub-section (1), the Central Government shall pass such orders as it thinks fit to give effect to the said recommendation.” A careful reading of this provision would make it clear that the CVC’s role is purely recommendatory and that the government has the last say in such matters.
In a democracy such as ours it is the prerogative of the Executive to have a choice of its own while making top level appointments. The only caveat is that in doing so the procedure prescribed by statute is not violated. I presume the government adhered strictly to the procedure laid down by the SPE Act. If it did not, Archana’s appointment is bad in law and can be challenged in court.
In another recent decision however the Union government does not emerge all that well. I am referring to the choice of PP Rao as one of the members in the selection panel to choose the first Lokpal. This appointment was made by a majority of three (the PM, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Justice Dattu, nominee of the Chief Justice of India) to one (Sushma Swaraj), overruling the objection raised by the latter.
Interestingly, the government had itself suggested a few other names as well, including former Attorney General K Parasaran, for constituting the selection panel. If Swaraj did not approve of Rao, what prevented an effort to arrive at a consensus by considering other names put forward earlier by the government? Going by the majority is being just correct, but seeking a consensus in such matters is to act with grace.
And grace and goodwill should govern the process of taking crucial decisions at the highest levels in public administration. By this token, the Prime Minister who was heading the meeting seems to have failed.
This is very unlike Manmohan Singh who is considered worldwide as the epitome of style and sobriety.
In all of this, however, we appear to be making a mountain out of a molehill. An Additional Director of the CBI or a Lok Pal is as good as the individual he or she is. Whoever in such a position displays rancour and subjectivity, and who brings with him or her the baggage of caste or religious prejudices will soon be eased out. It is not only the courts that are watching. It is also the weight of public opinion and vigil of the media. Any public official who cares two hoots for them and who misconducts himself will certainly come to grief. This is why we should not get too exercised about such appointments as long as these fall short of a downright bad choice favouring the undeserving or undesirable.
The writer is a former CBI Director