The Opposition and the BJP sparred on Thursday over the government’s move to extend the tenures of the directors of CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) up to a maximum of five years, with the Opposition alleging that it would completely undermine the autonomy of these institutions, and the ruling party defending the step as being necessary to fight large scale corruption.
The Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021, had been introduced in the Lok Sabha last week amid protest by the Opposition and came up for passage Thursday.
Moving a statutory resolution for disapproval of the ordinances which were enforced to amend the Central Vigilance Act and the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, Congress MP Manish Tewari said they were “arbitrary, capricious”, and an “exercise of power”.
“Any democracy is as strong or as weak as the institutions that support it… Unfortunately, over the last seven-and-half years, this government has made every attempt to dismantle the system of checks and balances which are intrinsic to our constitutional scheme,” he alleged.
“The bills moved today are yet another milestone towards that direction,” Mr Tewari said, adding the bills seek to make these institutions “subordinate” to the government.
He pointed out that the Supreme Court specified a tenure of two years for the heads of these organisations to ensure that they are insulated from any kind of governmental interference.
“It also ensured that the hierarchy of these two institutions is not disturbed. By increasing their tenure from two years to five years, one year at a time will be like dangling a carrot in front of these officers,” he said.
Mr Tewari also raised the issue of the legality of the CBI as a central investigative agency and suggested to the Union government that it should approach the Supreme Court to get the issue resolved.
“What we are dealing with here is not an ordinary amendment…the ripple effect of such a move down the line is going to completely and absolutely undermine the autonomy and the independence of these institutions,” the Congress leader said.
“I would like to request the government to take these bills back and please restore the position to status quo ante,” he said.
Leading the BJP charge during the debate on the two bills, Rajyavardhan Rathore said it is easy to maintain status quo but the Modi government is not here to maintain status quo but to bring about a change in the country.
“My request to the Opposition is do not look for one year, two years, look for long term benefits for the whole country. Manish Tewari just said that they (CBI, ED directors) will become representatives of our government, does it mean they have decided that their government will never come,” Mr Rathore said.
Mr Rathore said it was necessary to make the system effective and for that status quo cannot be maintained.
Citing the corruption in Commonwealth Games, infrastructure projects, and attack like Pulwama, he said such incidents were not against an individual but against the whole country.
Mr Rathore said those committing crimes against the country were oversmart people and for them the system will also have to be smart.
“Many roadblocks will come before the making of this law and that is visible. Drugs, terrorism, human trafficking, organised riots, gun running, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, frauds, betting syndicate, all these involve money laundering and if the root cause is found than all these organised crimes can be finished,” he said.
To Mr Tewari’s suggestion that the tenure could be fixed, Mr Rathore said the Opposition is used to this kind of “quota system” as it has no merit for performance.
DMK leader A Raja said the Constitution makers never believed that the BJP people will misuse even the office of the President, and alleged that by bringing the bills, the government was undermining the president’s office.
Mr Raja said he opposes the bills as the amendments in them were in “absolute contrasts to judicial precedents” and destroy institutional integrity. Trinamool leader Kalyan Banerjee said the Opposition was being targeted by the CBI “under direction of their masters”.
“By misusing and abusing the power, do not crush the voice of the Opposition, do not pick them up at midnight just before elections,” he said attacking the Centre.
The central government’s CBI and ED become more effective when general election comes, he alleged citing the action against Opposition members near polls.
RSP MP N K Premachandran raised concerns over ordinances, questioning the government on the need to push for them just before Parliament was convening for the Winter Session.
Mr Premachandran also said the move to extend the tenures was against the directions of the Supreme Court which had said the extension of tenure granted to officers who have attained the age of superannuation should be done only in rare and exceptional cases.
He got into a war of words with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi for alleging that Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh was trying to push the bills, which were serious in nature, while smiling.
He also had a tiff with BJP MP Nishikant Dubey for mentioning the name of one of the officers concerned, but later said that he did not “defame” anyone.
The directors of CBI and ED enjoy a fixed tenure of two years from the date of their appointment in the wake of the directives of the Supreme Court in the famous Vineet Narain case.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)