SC reinstates exiled CBI Chief Alok Verma, quashes govt order
08 January 2019
In a big setback for the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court has reinstated exiled CBI chief Alok Verma, reversing a government order divesting him of his powers as director of the central investigating agency and sending him on forced leave.
After hearing a petition filed by Verma and NGO Common Cause challenging the government's decision to send him on leave and divest him of his duties, the apex court set aside the centre's decision and said that the committee which appointed the CBI director will have to consider matter afresh.
Judgment authored by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, was read out by Justice Sanjay K Kaul in his absence. The verdict was to be delivered by the CJI, but he was on leave today.
The SC bench, however, ordered Verma not to take any major policy decision with regard to the functioning of CBI on his resuming office as the CBI director. The SC passed "cease and desist" order against Verma which would cripple him from taking any decision till the selection committee decides his fate.
The SC said there is no provision in law which permits the government to divest the CBI director of his powers and functions without prior consent from the high- powered committee.
Verma and NGO Common Cause had filed a petition after the centre decided to divest him of his charge and send him on forced leave in the intervening night of 23-24 October.
Representing Verma senior lawyer Fali Nariman had challenged the government's move arguing that the CBI chief has a fixed two year term and can be removed only by the high-powered committee.
"The legislative intent of insulating the CBI director is manifest," said two judges, setting aside the government's move in a unanimous judgement.
The government has argued that it had no option but to send both officers on leave since they were fighting like "kilkenny cats".
The court questioned the haste to take the step without consulting a selection committee, as is the rule for any action against the CBI chief.
"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 told the Central Vigilance Commission, on whose recommendation the centre put out the order stripping 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'."
The case is centred on allegations of corruption levelled by Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana at each other. The CBI director has been accused by Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Verma in turn accused Asthana of the same crime.