NEW DELHI The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma, setting aside the Centre’s decision to divest him of his powers, but restrained him from taking any major policy decision till the CVC probe into corruption charges against him is over.
The apex court said any further decision against Verma, who was sent on leave following the Centre’s October 23 decision and retires on January 31, would be taken by the high-powered committee which selects and appoints the CBI director.
The selection committee comprises the prime minister, the leader of opposition and the chief justice of India.
The top court said the high powered committee will take its decision on the basis of the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry. It said the meeting of the committee should be convened within a week.
The judgement 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 also set aside the Centre’s decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was joint director, as the agency’s interim chief.
With the verdict, the apex court has set aside the Centre’s October 23 decision divesting Verma as CBI chief and sending him on leave.
Verma’s two-year tenure as CBI Director ends on January 31. He has moved the top court challenging the Centre’s decision.
Verma sought quashing of three orders of October 23, 2018 — one by the 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.
Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer, was given the charge of interim chief of the probe agency.
The Centre took the decision to send Verma and CBI’s Special Director Rakesh Asthana on leave after their feud become public. The top two charged each other of corruption.
The Centre said Verma and Asthana were fighting like “Kilkenny cats”, exposing the country’s premier investigating agency to “public ridicule”.
Challenging the government’s decision, Verma’s counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman 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 said there was no basis for the CVC to pass an order recommending that Verma be sent on leave.
SC order indicts govt, say Cong and others
Narendra Modi is the first premier to have “his illegal orders set aside by the Supreme Court”, the Congress said on Tuesday while the CPI(M) asked for the prime minister’s resignation after the apex court reinstated CBI director Alok Kumar Verma.
Other parties, including the RJD and the PDP, joined in to say the apex court had dealt a big blow to the government with its order reinstating Verma and setting aside the Centre’s decision divesting him of his powers and sending him on leave.
The apex court, however, restrained him from taking any major policy decision till the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry is over.
“Modiji adds another 1st to his list. After being the first PM to be exposed destroying the #CBI before the SC, After having ruined CVC’s credibility (requiring supervision by former SC judge),Mr. Modi has now become 1st PM to have his illegal orders set aside by the SC,” tweeted Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
He asked Modi to remember that governments had come and gone but the integrity of institutions had survived.
“Let this be a lesson to you about the strength of our democracy and the Constitution. Let this be a lesson that howsoever despotic u may be, law catches up in the end,” Surjewala said on Twitter.
He also linked the government’s “illegal decision” on the issue with the Rafale fighter jet deal and the situation in the Reserve Bank of India as well as in the Supreme Court.
“Another big question for Modiji. After making #CBI Chief suffer the consequences of your illegal decision for 3 months, will you show the courage to return three months of lost tenure? Unless you are afraid of investigation into #RafaleScam!”
Playing on the prime minister’s name, Surjewala dubbed Modi as one who stood for Muzzling of Democratic Institutions (MODI).
Accusing Modi of destroying the credibility and competence of the CBI and the CVC, he also asked whether this was his model of “minimum governance, maximum government”.
“1st, you lose 4 economic advisors in a row including 2 RBI Governors, 2nd, 4 SC judges go public on Judge Loya, Then you destroy credibility & competence of the CBI & CVC. This is ur model of minimum governance, maximum govt’,” he tweeted.
His colleague, Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also part of the high powered committee said the order was a lesson for the government.
“We’re not against one individual and welcome the SC’s judgement… Today, you’ll use these agencies to pressurise people, tomorrow somebody else will, What will happen to democracy then?” Kharge asked while speaking to reporters outside Parliament.
According to CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Verma’s reinstatement by the Supreme Court was a “direct indictment” of Modi and his office.
“Will he take responsibility for this blatantly illegal act? If he has any moral conscience he should quit. Accountability, anyone or is it just #jumlas?” Yechury asked on Twitter.
Echoing Yechury, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also described the order as an indictment of the government.
“Modi govt has ruined all institutions and democracy in our country. Wasn’t CBI director illegally removed at midnight to stall the probe in Rafale scam which directly leads to PM himself?” the Aam Aadmi Party chief asked on Twitter.
Welcoming the apex court’s decision, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said it had restored faith in the independence of institutions.
“(It) reinstates belief in independent institutions of our democracy that are its pillars,” Mehbooba said in a tweet.
The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said the Centre should now stop “misusing” investigating agencies like the CBI and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for political ends.
“Time for the Central gov to stop misusing its influence to arm twist investigative agencies like (the) NIA & CBI for political vendetta,” she added.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha described the order as a “big slap” on the face of the government.
Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said the Supreme Court order was a partial victory for Verma.
“He has been restored but strangely he has been restrained from taking any policy decisions,” he said.
Delivering its order, the apex court said any further decision against Verma would be taken by the high-powered committee which selects and appoints the CBI director.
The judgement was pronounced by a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
Verma’s two-year tenure as CBI director ends on January 31.
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