Sunday, April 18, 2021

Praveen Sinha named acting CBI chief after Shukla’s ‘quiet’ tenure

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The Centre on Wednesday appointed the Central Bureau of Investigation’s deputy chief, 1988 batch Gujarat cadre Indian Police Service officer Praveen Sinha, as the acting director of the federal agency with “immediate effect”, according to an order issued by Department of Personnel and Training.

Sinha, currently additional director in the agency, will look after the duties of CBI director till the high powered selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi chooses the replacement for incumbent , Rishi Kumar Shukla, whose fixed two-year term ended on Wednesday, or “until further orders”, the order added.

The decision was taken as the high powered panel comprising the PM, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury have not been able to meet to choose the agency’s next chief.

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HT reported on Monday that the decision could be delayed by a few weeks given the ongoing budget session of parliament, and the farmers’ protest, both of which are keeping the government busy.

It is for the third time in last five years that an interim chief will head CBI. Additional director Rakesh Asthana (currently director general of Border Security Force) was appointed interim director of CBI in December 2016 for two months. Later, following an open ugly spat between former CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma and Asthana (when he was Special Director) in mid 2018, the government appointed M Nageswara Rao as interim director from October 2018 till January 2019. Shukla, a 1983 batch Madhya Pradesh cadre officer, who was brought to lead the agency at a time when it was coming out of a crisis caused by an internecine fight between its two senior most officers, took some steps to improve CBI’s image: the transfer of around 700 officers to different branches across India; keeping his doors open to hear any grievances; and avoided taking controversial decision.

Described as a thorough “gentleman” by many of his subordinates and batchmates, Shukla made sure that what happened in the agency, stayed within it.

The media-shy, soft spoken officer made it his policy to never interact with journalists. In fact, he didn’t give a single interview during his two years tenure.

Among the few bold decisions taken by him were the arrest of former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media case, raids on senior Congress leader from Karnataka D K Shivakumar, and the move to prosecute senior IAS officer Shashi Kant Sharma in the AgustaWestland case.

Other than that, as described by an officer in the agency , “Rishi Kumar Shukla had a quiet tenure, which was further complemented by the Covid-19 induced lockdown”.

Some of the high-profile cases he inherited from his predecessors, such as the probe into two former CBI Directors , Ranjit Sinha and A P Singh, the investigation of former ICICI Bank managing director Chanda Kochhar, and the Air India case did not see too many developments.

The agency, however, tasted some successes during Shukla’s tenure in the form of securing the extradition of Vijay Mallya from the UK, currently held up due to his asylum plea, and India being selected to host the Interpol General Assembly of 2022.

CBI registered record number of bank fraud cases during his tenure. It is estimated that CBI has registered bank fraud cases worth total 90,000 crore over the past two years, including against some big business houses.

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