Personnel ministry sends CBI's top officers on leave, opens door for Lokpal
In October, the ministry divested CBI's feuding duo, director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, of their powers and sent them on leave
Headlined by the murky fight that split the CBI and forced the ministry to send the premier investigating agency's two top officers on leave, 2018 was also a year that saw the Personnel Ministry finally open the doors for a Lokpal and take key decisions to curb corruption.
In October, the ministry divested CBI's feuding duo, director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, of their powers and sent them on leave. It was an unprecedented move by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions -- which is under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's direct charge and acts as the CBI's nodal department -- evoking strong political criticism for the ruling BJP by the opposition parties.
The case has now reached the Supreme Court and is pending decision. The ministry also processed a large number of senior-level appointments in government organisations, took key decisions on bureaucracy, reforming pension-related procedures, public grievances and on anti-corruption issues during the year.
In a major decision to further intensify its effort to checking graft, changes were brought in the 1988 Prevention of Corruption Act to punish bribe givers. 'One of the important achievements of the year is the passage of Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018 after a gap of 30 years. The law has clauses to punish bribe givers and to provide safeguards for performing officers,' Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh told PTI.
He said the government is committed to ensuring zero tolerance towards corruption and has been taking all possible steps to check it. The ministry also recommended that no corrupt bureaucrats be allowed to get a passport.
The Personnel Ministry, which is the cadre controlling authority for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), came out with draft appraisal forms for the bureaucrats. The officers' annual performance report will carry details of their ability to take timely and effective decision, especially in complex, ambiguous and critical situations, according to the proposal.
It also came out with a proposal of lateral entry to allow private sector specialists for appointments to key government departments as joint secretaries. The post of joint secretary is usually held by civil service officers.
A total of 6,077 applications have been received for 10 joint secretary posts in select government departments, including revenue, financial services, economic affairs, civil aviation and commerce. The task of selecting candidates for lateral entry has been entrusted to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which conducts the civil services examination to select officers of the IAS, Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) among others.
The ministry in September constituted an eight-member search committee, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, to recommend the chairperson and members of an anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal.
The decision to constitute the search committee comes five years after the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which envisages the establishment of anti-graft body Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants, came into force on January 1, 2014. The move assumes significance as the government decided to go ahead with the formation of the search committee despite Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, boycotting meetings of the Lokpal selection panel, headed by Modi.
Kharge said he was not made a full-fledged member in the panel. He rejected the invitation extended to him to attend the meetings of the selection committee held this year on six occasions-- March 1, April 10, July 19, August 21, September 4 and September 19 -- as a "special invitee", officials said. The eight-member search committee is mandated to recommend a panel of names for the appointment of the Lokpal and its members.
As per the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, only the leader of the opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha is a member of the selection committee and Kharge is not part of the panel since he does not have that status. A party should have at least 55 seats or 10 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha for its leader to get LoP status.
The feud in the CBI led to the registration of an FIR against Asthana and others in an alleged bribery case. On October 15, the CBI registered an FIR against Asthana for allegedly receiving a bribe of Rs 2 crore from Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Sathish Babu to sabotage the probe against meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
On August 24, Asthana, in his complaint to the cabinet secretary, levelled allegations against Verma that he got a bribe of Rs 2 crore from Sana to help him get relief from questioning in the matter. Verma challenged his ouster from the CBI in the Supreme Court saying he has been given two-year fixed tenure which cannot be altered. Verma was appointed CBI director on February 1, 2017. M Nageswara Rao has been working as interim CBI director. He was recently promoted to the rank of additional director by the government.
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