Agencies / New Delhi
The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on the petition moved by CBI Director Alok Verma, challenging the Centre’s decision to divest him of all powers and sending him on leave.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi concluded the arguments on behalf of Verma, the Centre, the Central Vigilance Commission and others who were party in the matter.
The court also heard the petition moved by NGO Common Cause which had sought court-monitored SIT probe into allegations of corruption against various CBI officials, including Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
Verma and Asthana have made allegations of corruption against each other.
In a marathon hearing, the court pulled up the government for not consulting the Selection Committee before taking the decision and concluded the arguments on behalf of the CBI director, the Centre, the Central Vigilance Commission and others who were party in the matter
Verma told the court that there cannot be an acting director of the premier investigative agency just like there cannot be an acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Senior lawyer Fali S Nariman, appearing on behalf of Verma, said the law does not envisage the appointment of any acting director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
He also rejected the government’s claim that the government had acted well within its powers and not transferred Verma as he was still the CBI director.
“When all the functions of my office are taken away, it is a ‘transfer’. Transfer includes divesting of functions and not just transfer from one place to another,” he told the three-judge bench, which agreed that the word does not always have to be taken in a literal sense.
Nariman also pointed out that the importance of being the CBI director was not having the post written in a visiting card, and thus, it is not enough for the government to send him on leave and then say he is still the director.
“House, cars. What kind of arguments are sought to be made. He is no more the CBI director than I could be in the present situation,” he told the bench.
Verma’s stance, since the hearing began a month ago, has been that the government cannot divest him of his powers as he has a fixed two-year tenure that cannot be curtailed without nod from the Selection Committee, which comprises the Prime Minister, the CJI and the leader of the single largest party in opposition.
The SC also posed tough questions to the government on the sudden overnight order to send the CBI’s top two – Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana – on leave after “tolerating” their fight since July. The court asked why the Selection Committee was not consulted, rejecting the argument of extraordinary exigencies.
The court questioned the haste to take the step without consulting the panel, 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 told the Central Vigilance Commission, on whose recommendation the centre put out the order and stripped CBI chief Alok Verma of his powers.
The government had on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it was forced to strip CBI chief Alok Verma of his powers “in larger public interest to ensure institutional integrity” as the fight between the No. 1 and 2 brought ridicule to the agency.
Clearly not impressed with this line of reasoning, the court said on Thursday, “It is better to consult the Selection Committee than not to consult. It is not only a question of adherence to law but better adherence to law. Even if exigencies occur, is it not advisable to go to the Committee at some stage?”
“Why not be completely fair? The essence of every government action is what is best for administration,” the bench said.