RK Shukla named new CBI director

The National Democratic Alliance government named Rishi Kumar Shukla as the new chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation, just three days after he was removed as Madhya Pradesh police chief by the state’s new Congress administration, in an appointment that is likely to ratchet up political friction ahead of general elections.

Shukla, a Madhya Pradesh cadre Indian Police Service officer of the 1983 batch, will occupy the hot seat at a time when the agency has been left badly bruised by an internecine feud between his predecessor Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana.

A selection committee — comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha — chooses the CBI chief. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CJI Ranjan Gogoi approved the appointment of Shukla while Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge dissented.

In an indication that Shukla’s appointment could prove to be a political hot potato, Kharge, who attended two selection committee meetings that were inconclusive, shot off a letter of dissent to Prime Minister Modi, saying experience in probing corruption cases should have been taken into account as well in making the appointment.

Kharge cited a Supreme Court judgment and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that listed seniority, integrity and experience in investigating corruption cases as prerequisites for the job of CBI director. The selection committee shortlisted the candidates on the basis of seniority, the annual confidential report and total experience in investigation and corruption probes of 100 months or more. He claimed that Shukla had no experience in anti-corruption cases. “It is important to restore the image and integrity of the CBI as a premier institution that is fighting against corruption. Hence, prior experience of having served in the institution should be given primacy after having shortlisted candidates based on their seniority and their ACR,” he said. “One cannot stand by and accept the dilution of norms when an appointment to such a critical post is being made,” Kharge added in his dissent note.

In terms of overall investigative experience, Shukla notched up 117 months, lower than the 170 months of Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, who also spent 25 months handling corruption cases.

Kharge put former Uttar Pradesh police chief S Javeed Ahmad as his number 1 choice for the top job in the CBI because he had 303 months of experience in handling corruption cases, followed by Central Reserve Police Force chief RR Bhatnagar, and National Security Guard chief Sudeep Lakhtakia.

The CBI is still under the cloud of the bitter internecine feud between Verma and Asthana, who accused each other of corruption. On October 23, the government divested both men of their duties and sent them on leave. The Supreme Court on January 10 reinstated Verma and left it to the selection panel to decide whether he should continue in the post. The panel, in a 2-1 decision, removed him from the CBI’s helm and posted him as director general, fire services, civil defence and home guards to serve out the 20 days before his retirement. Verma declined to occupy the post, noting that he had already reached retirement age, and requested that he be deemed to have retired.

Even at the time of Verma’s appointment as CBI chief in 2017, Kharge had dissented. He was in favour of another IPS officer, RK Dutta, who was removed from the post of CBI special director just prior to the process of appointing a new director. Dutta’s removal led to the appointment of then additional director Asthana as acting chief of the agency in December 2016 when Anil Sinha retired as the CBI chief.

Shukla had been the chief of Madhya Pradesh police from June 2016 until the newly elected Kamal Nath government of the Congress party named him chairman of the MP Police Housing Corporation, considered a shunting post.

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