The government’s proposal to appoint the National Investigation Agency (NIA) chief SC Sinha to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as one of its members has caused outrage in the BJP. As per the NHRC Act, the Leader of the Opposition has to concur with any such appointment. Sushma Swaraj is said to have vetoed the proposal at a meeting held last week to make a choice for an existing vacancy. The other two members of the panel, viz, the prime minister and home minister, carried the day on a majority.
It looks as if Sinha’s appointment will now onwards be a mere formality. It was a sort of history repeating itself when PJ Thomas was made the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), and Swaraj had opposed his appointment. This time, though, the appointment may stay put, because, till now, there is no information that Sinha had a blot on his copybook. Again, the opposition to Thomas was on personal grounds, with the Opposition pointing out that he was involved in a criminal case that was pending, a fact that an unknown hand managed to obfuscate or hide shamelessly. We know the rest of the story, with Thomas now cooling his heels in Kerala. While I had berated the government then for such a brazen disregard for propriety, I am not ready to do so now in the case of Sinha, for several reasons.
I have known Sinha only slightly. He left the CBI much before I had entered. From whatever I have heard of him, he is a very good officer with a blemishless record. His performance in the middle ranks of the CBI was also rated outstanding. Normally he should have ended up as CBI Director. His relatively lower position in the all-India seniority list denied him this position. So he continued to work for the NIA where he became the second chief after the agency was created four years ago. Here also his performance has been commendable, if not brilliant. Not that he did not try to make that organisation sparkling.
The NIA is yet to make waves. It may not ever do so, because the charter given to it is ambitious and dubious, with the state governments constantly suspicious of its activities and therefore non-cooperative.
I consider the BJP’s opposition to Sinha as flawed. The NIA does not play that kind of a critical role as the CBI does, and hence appointments to the CBI or post-retirement gifts to a past CBI Director and a posting to NHRC are different kettles of fish. I am conscious of the controversy surrounding the concept of 'saffron' or Right-wing terrorism. I would like to steer clear of it as I don’t have enough reliable facts on hand to support either party to that controversy. My stand is that neither NHRC nor NIA has such a vital charter that should stand in the way of any appointments to either organisation. A CBI Director’s appointment to NHRC as a post-retirement gift is questionable, because the former has enough authority and discretion to favour a government in the hope of a post-retirement job. But not a NIA chief, unless he is rank dishonest or crassly political. In view of this I personally feel that Sinha’s appointment should go through. This is particularly because Sinha has a great reputation for professional excellence and personal integrity.
The Opposition’s focus should now be on how to insulate the CBI from political caprice. A first step will be to persuade the government to agree to an amendment to the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act whereby a CBI Director will be barred from any government job for at least five years after he demits office. The compensation for such a ban should be a five-year tenure to a CBI Director instead of the current measly two years. The FBI Director in the US enjoys an uninterrupted term of 10 years. Only this offers hope that a CBI Director will not be swayed by a carrot that a government normally dangles before him while he is in office. This may not be proof against pliability. But it would at least be a significant step towards making him less servile than he is now.
The writer is a former CBI Director