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Finish probe against CBI chief Alok Verma within 2 weeks: Supreme Court

Retired judge to monitor investigation; interim boss can’t take policy calls.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2018 00:00 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,CBI case,CBI
SC order to CVC did not mention the CBI’s own probe into Rakesh Asthana which precipitated the crisis in the country’s federal investigation agency. (AP)

The Supreme Court on Friday skirted the issue of whether the government, through the Central Vigilance Commission, had the power to effectively remove the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Alok Verma but insisted that an investigation into the director by CVC be supervised by retired SC judge AK Patnaik, and be concluded within two weeks.

A bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi refused to grant CVC more time. “Can’t give more time, it’s not in the interest of the country,” the CJI told solicitor general Tushar Mehta who sought three weeks for the task. The court also refused to entertain a plea by CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, also divested of all responsibilities on the same day as the director (October 23), saying he had “missed the bus”. However, its order to CVC did not mention the CBI’s own probe into him which precipitated the crisis in the country’s federal investigation agency.

The third person in the high-drama that played out on the intervening night of October 23 and 24, the agency’s joint director promoted as interim director, M Nageswara Rao found his powers curtailed by the bench, which also comprised justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph. The court barred him from taking any “policy decision” or “major decision.” It sought all orders passed by the agency since October 23 to be shown to it by the next hearing on November 12. This includes the transfer of several officials in the agency. Rao, the court said, “will only perform routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.”

Union minister Arun Jaitley described Friday’s order as “an extremely positive development”. “The government has no interest for or against any individual. The government is interested in only maintaining the professionalism, the image and the institutional integrity of the CBI,” he said, shortly after the top court announced its directions.

Chief spokesperson of the Congress Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Truth prevails in Supreme Court. Modi Government’s sinister attempt to capture CBI through lackeys falls flat. A slap in face of tyrants who wanted to pin the last nail in CBI’s independence. CVC can’t act as Modi Government’s pawn but would be supervised by a SC judge to act fairly.”

Read: Rahul Gandhi courts arrest at big CBI protest, spends 50 minutes at police station

A CBI spokesperson said the agency will “follow today’s Supreme Court order in letter and spirit”, and seek legal opinion if needed.

In his complaint to the Cabinet Secretary on August 24, which was forwarded to the CVC, Rakesh Asthana accused Verma of receiving money to give relief to one Satish Babu Sana who was being investigated by the agency in the Moin Qureshi case. In its order divesting Verma of his responsibilities, CVC referred to the agency’s lack of co-operation with regard to an inquiry arising from this complaint.

Solicitor General Mehta expressed apprehension that the court order would reflect on the CVC’s functioning. “Let the CVC examine the matter. The CVC has to submit an annual report to the President, which will be presented before the Parliament,” he urged the bench, quoting the provisions of CVC Act, 2003.

The court’s response was conciliatory but firm. It said in its order: “We make it clear that entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the C.V.C. to a former judge of this court is one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this Court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India.”

The court also issued notice on Verma’s petition questioning the government decision to send him on leave. Notice was also issued to the Centre on Common Cause’s petition asking for a probe by Special Investigation Team (SIT) against Asthana and his removal from the CBI. “We will examine the matter,” the court said at the outset of the hearing.

The court refused to entertain Asthana’s lawyer senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi because his petition against the government order was not listed before it. “You have missed the bus. Your matter is not before us. We cannot pass any orders,” the CJI said.

Senior advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for Verma, quoted the law to point out that Verma has a fixed two-year tenure and his removal or transfer cannot be without a reference to the high-powered committee led by the Prime Minister and comprising leader of the opposition and Chief Justice of India.

Before Nariman could argue further, CJI Gogoi told Attorney General KK Venugopal that the court would examine the matter at the next hearing and would give CVC 10 days to complete the probe against Verma. When Mehta said the time was not sufficient, the CJI quipped: “Okay we will give you 240 hours.”

Mehta pointed to the voluminous documents in a sealed cover and said several documents were yet to be received from CBI. CJI Gogoi refused to look into the bulky documents. “This is just a preliminary enquiry being done by the CVC,” he said.

Mehta made yet another effort. “There is Diwali break as well. Give us some more time.” CJI replied: “Diwali is just for one day and that is 24 hours.”

First Published: Oct 26, 2018 22:27 IST