Govt appointments need transparency

Recently, the UPA government announced the appointments of Ranjit Sinha as director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Syed  Asif Ibrahim as director of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Alok Joshi as secretary, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The haste with which such crucial appointments were made, seems to have elicited a degree of incredulous conjecture.  The nation has three new chiefs heading crucial agencies. All three will be in office during the next general elections, be it in 2014 or earlier. While all three officers seem to possess good records, the process leading to their appointments needs a measure of scrutiny. Considering the fact that these positions have a huge bearing on national security, it would be unwise to dismiss this as just another instance of administrative delinquency.

The appointment of Ranjit Sinha as director of CBI has been rather vexing, especially at a time when the Rajya Sabha select committee’s report on the Lokpal Bill had just been tabled and was pending consideration by Parliament. This report adduced a new mechanism for the appointment of CBI director through a collegium rather than by the government alone. The collegium would include the PM, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

Disappointing decision

The fact that the government has chosen to ignore the collegium method is disappointing given its past experience regarding the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). The Supreme Court had quashed the appointment of P J Thomas as CVC, causing the government much ignominy. The appointment of the CBI director by a collegium would have unfettered the government from that stigma.

Asif Ibrahim’s appointment as Director of IB makes him the first Muslim to head the Intelligence Bureau, India’s domestic intelligence-gathering agency. However Ibrahim, a IPS officer of the 1977 batch, has superseded three officers V Rajagopal, R N Gupta and Yashovardhan Azad, all IPS officers of the 1976 batch. While his credentials are impeccable, rumours abound that discontent is rife in the IB over this appointment. The principle of seniority has clearly been ignored. While it is true that seniority alone cannot be a measure of professional ability, the process of selection has to be transparent and beyond reproach.

The IB has been accused in the past of being a lapdog of whichever party that is in power at the Centre. Opaqueness in matters regarding key appointments is unsavoury. The recently published IDSA task force report on intelligence reforms has strongly recommended the setting up of a Parliamentary Accountability Committee for oversight of intelligence agencies. The report also suggests that the writing annual confidential reports (ACRs) needs a major overhaul due to the increasing instances of bias and subjectivity.

Alok Joshi, who is set to become RAW’s next chief, has an excellent professional record with long years in RAW and the Intelligence Bureau. However by selecting Joshi, the government will overlook the claims of Research and Analysis Service (RAS) officers who were directly recruited to RAW.

There is also the question of accountability when it comes to the selection of RAW chiefs. The defection in 2004 of Rabinder Singh  the joint secretary handling South-East Asia division in the RAW is still unexplained. While it is well known that he was spying for the US, it is still perplexing how he managed to evade the counter intelligence wing and defect successfully. Nobody has been held responsible for this high profile defection. On the contrary his immediate superiors went on to occupy high positions within the RAW. A recently published book called Escape to Nowhere by Amar Bhushan ,who retired as special secretary RAW, has questioned the role played by senior RAW officials in the defection.

The IB and RAW will benefit if a collegium is set up for the selection of their chiefs as well. It can be one similar to the one mooted for the CBI, with perhaps the inclusion of the Union home minister in the collegium selecting the IB chief and the external affairs minister in one selecting the RAW chief. The malice of nepotism has long been a canker afflicting our nation. Most of our institutions have been debilitated by the turpitude that nepotism sires. A quantum of accountability is what the nation desperately seeks.

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