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Government can’t remove CBI chief midterm, Alok Verma tells court

Fali S Nariman, who appeared for Alok Verma, said, “The legal provision dealing with conditions and terms of service of CBI director mandates that any such move can only be made with the approval of the selection committee.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2018 23:30 IST
Ashok Bagriya
Ashok Bagriya
Hindustan Times
CBI vs CBI,alok verma,rakesh asthana
Verma and his deputy at the agency, special director Rakesh Asthana, were both divested of their powers on the night of October 23 after an internecine battle between the two threw the agency into chaos. (HT Photo)

The case in the Supreme Court over the government divesting Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma of his powers saw arguments on Thursday between the petitioners (including Verma) and the government (represented by the attorney general) on the scope of powers of the selection committee that appoints the CBI chief and whether divesting the CBI chief of his powers was tantamount to transferring him.

Defending the government’s decision, attorney general KK Venugopal said that the central government was the appointing authority in the case of the CBI director and it was not incumbent upon it to consult the selection committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) before divesting him of powers. Drawing a distinction between the roles played by the selection committee and the appointing authority, Venugopal contended that the former’s responsibility was to only recommend a suitable candidate with the final appointment being made by the government.

“The committee selects a group of candidates for the appointment of director of CBI, and puts it up before the government. Then it is the government which appoints the right candidate out of these; selection does not mean appointment,” Venugopal said.

Fali S Nariman, who appeared for Verma, said, “The legal provision dealing with conditions and terms of service of CBI director mandates that any such move can only be made with the approval of the selection committee. How could the government divest Alok Verma of his powers without convening the committee’s meeting? If this is allowed, what happens to the autonomy and independence of CBI.” Senior advocate Dushyant Dave representing Common Cause, an NGO, also argued that the transfer should not have happened without consulting the committee. Responding to a query from Justice KM Joseph on whether the committee should be involved even if the “CBI director is caught red-handed” , Nariman said that should be the case.

Verma and his deputy at the agency, special director Rakesh Asthana, were both divested of their powers on the night of October 23 after an internecine battle between the two threw the agency into chaos. After Verma contested this legally, the Supreme Court asked the Central Vigilance Commission, which was probing a complaint against Verma by Asthana, to complete this within two weeks.

The attorney general also said that Verma remained the CBI director: “Verma stays in the house marked for the CBI director and also enjoys all the perks associated with his position, so where is the question of transfer?”. He added that even if that were the case, the “question of consulting with the committee even in case of transfer does not arise.”

The court will hear the matter again on December 5. Dave also alleged that despite Supreme Court orders barring the acting CBI director from taking policy decisions, this was happening.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Congress leader Mallikajuna Kharge, who is also the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha (and therefore a member of the selection committee), argued that the power of the CVC over the CBI director is only limited to supervising investigations under the Prevention of Corruption Act

First Published: Nov 29, 2018 23:30 IST