Alok Verma Verdict LIVE: In a major setback for the government, the Supreme Court has reinstated CBI chief Alok Verma. The court said Verma, who was sent on forced leave, could not be stripped of his powers but added that he could not take major policy decisions till the decision of the Selection Committee. The Centre had taken a decision against Verma and CBI’s Special Director Rakesh Asthana after their feud become public as they made allegations of corruption against each other.
Reacting to the verdict, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government felt that in the larger interest of fair and impartial investigation and credibility of the CBI, the two officers must recuse themselves. He said that while the court has held that approval from the high-powered committee was needed for removal of the CBI chief, the Central Vigilance Committee has been vested with powers to remove him in cases of corruption. “This action was taken perfectly bona fide as there were cross-allegations made by both the officers, and in accordance with recommendations of CVC. The govt had felt that in the larger interest of fair and impartial investigation and credibility of CBI,the two officers must recuse themselves,” he said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said “nothing can save the PM now”. He said Verma wanted to probe the Rafale deal, which is why he was shown the door by the government.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, meanwhile, said the “CBI chief was removed as he was not doing what the government wanted him to do”. Co-petitioner Prashant Bhushan said despite restoring Verma, the court had said he could not take any major policy decision before the high-powered committee takes a final call. He added that it was a “partial victory” for Verma.
Verma had sought quashing of three orders of October 23, 2018 — one by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and two by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. CBI’s Joint Director M Nageswara Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer, was given the charge of interim chief of the probe agency.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had on December 6 reserved the judgment after hearing arguments on behalf of Verma, the Centre, the CVC and others. The court had also heard the plea moved by NGO Common Cause which had sought a court-monitored SIT probe into the allegations of corruption against various CBI officials, including Asthana.
Verma’s two-year tenure as CBI director ends on January 31. He has moved the top court challenging the Centre’s decision.
The Centre had justified its decision to divest Verma of his duties and send him on leave, saying he and Asthana were fighting like “Kilkenny cats”, exposing the country’s premier investigating agency to “public ridicule”.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the bench, also comprising Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph, that the Centre was well “within its right to intervene” and send both officers on leave by divesting them of their powers.
Venugopal had told the court that “only the God knows where and how this fight between the two top officers would have ended” if the government would not have taken the action which was aimed at restoring the public faith in the CBI.
Challenging the government’s decision, Verma’s counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman had argued that the CBI Director was appointed on February 1, 2017 and “the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred”. Nariman had said there was no basis for the CVC to pass an order recommending that Verma be sent on leave.