The government’s move to appoint National Investigative Agency (NIA) chief SC Sinha as a Member of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after his retirement has hit a roadblock. The two Leaders of Opposition in Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, have opposed the proposal mooted by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
As per norms, the appointment of NHRC members have to be cleared by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha and deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, the leaders of opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. However, despite the dissent from the leaders of Opposition, the government can still go ahead with the appointment of Sinha as an NHRC member, but given the embarrassing experience that it had with appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, it is unlikely to proceed further. Sinha will shortly retire from service.
Sources said the BJP was opposed to the UPA government’s idea of rewarding chiefs of investigation agencies with plum post-retirement posts. Sinha has been the NIA chief since February 2010. He was the investigation agency's second chief since it came into existence in 2009. It was during Sinha’s tenure as NIA chief that the organization, at the instance of Ministry of Home Affairs, registered fresh FIRs in connection with the 2007 Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast, 2006 Malegaon blasts and 2007 Ajmer Dargah Sharif. The agency subsequently said that these blasts were the handiwork of Hindu or right-wing extremists and filed revised charge sheets overturning the findings of the CBI and state police forces that had been filed.
In November, the government had tried to appoint the then CBI Director AP Singh to the same post as Sinha, but the BJP had opposed his appointment at the time on the same grounds. The government ultimately appointed Singh as a member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The government does need to consult Leaders of Opposition for appointment to that post in the UPSC. The Opposition had also raised a furore when another former CBI director, Ashwini Kumar, was made Governor of Nagaland.
But the one instance when the BJP had the government on the mat was over the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner in 2010. Sushma Swaraj had opposed his appointment when his name was proposed by the Prime Minister and the then Home Minister P Chidambaram, but the government still went ahead with his appointment. Despite Swaraj writing a note of dissent, the government’s asserted its executive supremacy. Finally the appointment struck down by the Supreme Court.
The controversy only came to a close after the Prime Minister said he accepted responsibility for the appointment of Thomas and that he respected the Supreme Court's judgement invalidating Thomas' appointment. After the PM's statement, Swaraj had tweeted, "I appreciate the statement of the PM owning responsibility...I think this is enough, let matters rest at this and we move forward."
However, many in her party had then not agreed with Swaraj’s decision to give a quiet burial to an issue gave, which could have been used against the Manmohan Singh-led government over the issue of probity.