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EditorialsEditorial: Politicising probe agencies

Editorial: Politicising probe agencies

Published: 3rd Dec 2021 10:45 pm

Insulating the top investigating agencies from undue political influence forms an essential element of the much-needed police reforms in the country. The success of reforms in the police administration depends on the sincerity and commitment of the government. However, the actions of the NDA government on this front have failed to inspire any such confidence. In fact, the two ordinances it promulgated recently to arm itself with powers to extend the tenure of directors of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for up to five years smack of arbitrariness. At present, their tenure is two years. The timing of the twin ordinances — Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Ordinance and Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Ordinance —, a few days before the start of the winter session of Parliament, has raised suspicion. Questions are being raised whether the move amounted to cocking a snook at the Supreme Court, which had earlier ruled that no further extensions could be given to ED Director SK Mishra whose tenure was already extended by a year in 2020 in an exceptional and unprecedented move. The ordinance route taken by the Centre indicates that it wants to bypass Parliament even on such a crucial issue. It is not surprising that the opposition views the ordinances as part of an attempt to subvert the independence of the two key probe agencies. Already, the Centre has been facing flak for unleashing them against political opponents to coerce them into submission or to harass them.

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The two-year tenure limit for the ED chief had been mandated by the Supreme Court based on the recommendations of the National Police Commission. It was felt that a fixed tenure for high office would enable the incumbent to do his or her professional duty without fear or favour. The political bosses, armed with the power of appointments and transfers, can play havoc with the careers of senior officers who do not toe their political line. In the present case, the ordinance move was clearly meant to extend the tenure of Mishra who took charge in 2018. The opposition parties have been alleging that under Mishra’s leadership, the probe agency has opened up investigations into many critics of the government. The credibility of the Central agencies has been rapidly eroding. Questions are also being raised about the manner in which the Centre has been tinkering with the appointment and tenure norms of high-level officers in these two investigating agencies. Unlike the CBI director, the head of the ED is not selected by the committee comprising the Prime Minister, leader of the opposition and Chief Justice of India. These ordinances could become a tool for the CBI and ED chiefs to resort to any measures to please the political bosses for extensions.

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