Alok Verma Reinstated as CBI Chief by SC in Big Setback to Govt, But Can't Take Major Policy Decisions
The CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led bench, however, ruled that Verma cannot take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee that selects and appoints the CBI Director takes a call on the matter.
New Delhi: In a big blow to the Centre, the Supreme Court reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI director on Tuesday, three months after the government stripped him of his powers and sent him on forced leave in a midnight swoop.
The CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led three-judge bench, while setting aside the government order, however, ruled that Verma can resume his role as the CBI chief but cannot take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee that selects and appoints the CBI Director takes a decision on the matter.
The court said a meeting of the high-powered committee, which comprises the PM, the leader of opposition and the CJI, will be called this week to take the decision on the basis of the findings of the CVC inquiry into the corruption allegations against Verma.
Since Verma is set to retire on January 31, the selection committee will have to take a call in the next few weeks, otherwise the issue becomes infructuous.
The court stated that the verdict only dealt with the pure question of law on “whether government was empowered to strip the CBI director of his powers.”
Shielding the post of the CBI director from any government influence, it said that the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was “amended to ensure complete insulation of the office of the CBI Director from external pressures.”
The court further ruled that public interest was paramount in ensuring the independence of the CBI and its director has to be the “role model of the agency’s independence”.
The judgment was penned by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. However, the CJI didn't attend court and it was pronounced by Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
The apex court order gave the Congress ammunition to attack the government as it said that Narendra Modi was the first prime minister to have "his illegal orders set aside by the Supreme Court". Other parties also joined the Congress to say the apex court had dealt a blow to the government with its order.
Rejecting the government’s contention that the decision to send Verma on leave cannot be construed as removal or transfer, the bench held that the word "transfer" has to be understood as encompassing all acts which affect the independent functioning of CBI Director. It said that the government should have referred the matter to the Select Committee and not taken a unilateral decision.
Verma and his deputy, special CBI director Rakesh Asthana were both sent on leave on October 23 amid a bitter feud between the CBI's top two as they levelled corruption charges against each other.
Verma challenged the move saying it went against the rules that mandate that the CBI chief has a fixed two-year term in office. The government argued that it had no option but to send both officers on leave since they were fighting like "kilkenny cats".
But the court questioned the haste to take the step. "If you had tolerated since July, it is not something that required immediate action as the circumstances were culminating for a long time," Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had asked the Central Vigilance Commission, on whose recommendation the centre put out the order and stripped Alok Verma of his powers.
"Extraordinary situations need extraordinary remedies," the vigilance body had replied. "The Central Vigilance Commission's superintendence (over CBI) encompasses 'surprise, extraordinary situations'."
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the intent of bringing the directions in Vineet Narain case into the statute book is to ensure complete insulation of CBI Director
CJI Gogoi also stated that “if the legislative intent was to allow interim measures against CBI Director, statute would have spelt it out.”
When Fali S Nariman representing Verma was arguing in the court, he had said that, “It is not that he (the CBI director) cannot be transferred, but it should be done only with the consent of the committee.”
Attorney-general KK Venugopal had defended the CVC’s power to recommend Verma’s benching and the department of personnel and training’s authority to carry out the recommendation.
The attorney general then argued that the selection committee’s task was only to pick a panel of three candidates for the CBI chief’s post, and the government alone was empowered to make the final selection and appointment.