The SC judgment is a good starting point to remake CBI
The court’s order has given everyone an opportunity to do the right thing by an agency that has lost face and credibility. Part of this is because of the CBI’s own overt politicisation, although the agency has always been politicisedUpdated: Jan 08, 2019 17:58 IST
The Supreme Court’s order, in what is now popularly called the CBI vs CBI case, has reinforced the importance of following due process, especially in matters concerning the operation and oversight of important institutions. In that aspect, it is definitely a setback for the government no matter how the latter may seek to spin the court’s verdict. The court said the government should have referred the matter of CBI chief Alok Verma’s removal to the select committee comprising the prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India — the same committee chooses the CBI chief — instead of just asking the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to divest him of his powers. The court’s message is clear and unambiguous: in a parliamentary democracy, the executive does not have unrestrained powers to infringe on the rights and autonomy of institutions. In the CBI’s case, the law was clear that the chief of the agency would have a fixed term, be chosen by a select committee and, it is clear now after the ruling, be removed, if required, by it.
It isn’t a complete victory for CBI chief Alok Verma, though. By asking for the Select Committee to look into the charges against him — some of the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission’s report on these were pretty serious, the court remarked while hearing the case — the Supreme Court has acknowledged that these need further investigation. Its decision to not reinstate Verma with all powers is therefore recognition of both the nature of these charges as well as the CVC’s superintendence on such matters over the agency. Verma may well start his fresh stint at the CBI by scrapping the transfer of the officers he had investigating his deputy Rakesh Asthana (the fight between the two was the reason the government stepped in and divested both of their powers), but the Select Committee will now convene and look into the charges against him, perhaps go over the same CVC report on these that was submitted to the court.
The court’s order has given everyone an opportunity to do the right thing by an agency that has lost face and credibility. Part of this is because of the CBI’s own overt politicisation, although the agency has always been politicised. Some of it also has to do with the way the agency’s top officials, and, by extension, the agency itself, have behaved. This judgment is a good starting point to remake the CBI. After all, the last big wave of reforms in the agency happened in the wake of and as a result of the Vineet Narain vs Union of India case. Whether this much-needed makeover will happen, and the contours of it, depend on the government and the CBI itself.
First Published: Jan 08, 2019 17:57 IST