Mixed findings, says Supreme Court on vigilance report against CBI No. 1 Alok Verma
The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has been “very complimentary” on some charges levelled against Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma by his deputy Rakesh Asthana and “very uncomplimentary” on some, the Supreme Court noted on Friday, indicating that the top vigilance watchdog has not given a clean chit yet to the head of the India’s premier investigating agency.
The bench, comprising chief justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, ordered that a copy of the report be handed over to Verma, whom it asked to file a response in a sealed envelope by 1pm on Monday. The court said it would take up the case on Tuesday, November 20.
“CVC has filed an exhaustive report with documents. It can be categorised into four parts. One, it is very complimentary on some charges, not so on others, very uncomplimentary on some and with regard to some, CVC requires further investigation,” the bench told Verma’s counsel, senior advocate Fali S Nariman, after perusing the report that was handed to it on November 12 in a sealed envelope.
CVC told the court its probe of the corruption charges levelled against Verma by Asthana was still incomplete.
The top court had on October 31 directed CVC, which has jurisdiction over the CBI, to enquire into the charges levelled against Verma on the director’s petition challenging a government order sending him on leave, and asked the commission to submit its report within two weeks. The inquiry was conducted under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik.
Verma and Asthana were divested of their responsibilities on the intervening night of October 23 and 24 after their running feud threw the federal investigating agency into disarray. Asthana wrote to the cabinet secretary on August 24, alleging interference by Verma in sensitive cases and claiming that the director had taken a bribe. The cabinet secretary then asked CVC to look into the matter.
Subsequently, CBI filed an FIR against Asthana to investigate alleged instances of corruption.
“We have perused the report of CVC. We are of the view that, at this stage, and before taking any decision thereon a copy of the report of the CVC (along with Annexures thereto) should be furnished by the Registry of this Court, in sealed cover, to the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner. It will be opened for the petitioner to file his response to the said report of the CVC again in sealed cover,” the court ordered.
“The above course of action has been considered necessary by the court keeping in mind the need to preserve and maintain the sanctity of the institution of the CBI and public confidence in the said institution,” said the court, noting the peculiar facts of the case.
Sealed copies of the report would also be given to the offices of the Attorney General (AG) and Solicitor General (SG). While the AG, KK Venugopal, is appearing for the Centre, SG Tushar Mehta is representing the CVC. “You are the author and you do not know what is in it,” CJI Gogoi said in a lighter vein when Mehta asked for a copy.
At Nariman’s request, the court said all parties receiving the report shall maintain utmost “confidentiality” in the matter and not make it public.
The court declined the Centre’s request for its response to the CVC’s findings and also refused to provide a copy to Asthana. “At this stage, we are not inclined to call upon either the Union of India or any other party to submit any response or reply to the said report of the CVC and the only response the Court is permitting is that of the petitioner,” ordered the bench.
Asthana’s lawyer, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi insisted on a copy of the report. The CVC probe against Verma had been at the behest of Asthana’s complaints, Rohatgi argued. “No chance. You will not get the report,” the bench said. When Rohatgi contended that it was his client who complained to the cabinet secretary, the CJI retorted: “Under what authority did you send him the complaint?. You won’t get it.”
“I can complain,” Rohatgi responded, prompting the CJI to say: “Anybody can go and complain.”
The bench told senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, appearing for co-petitioner, NGO Common Cause, that it had not filed a list of policy decisions taken by acting CBI director M Nageshwar Rao. Dave claimed that despite the court’s order restraining Rao from taking important policy decisions, the acting director had taken some.
“We will presume that he [Rao} has not taken any major policy decision because you have not given us a list of decisions taken by him,” the bench said, noting Rao had already filed in the court a list of decisions taken by him from October 23 till October 26.
“In so far as the decision taken by acting director is concerned, we have considered the details of the decisions that he has taken up to the date of the order. While it would be open for any party to supplement the list we defer consideration of the matter to November 20,” the court said.
CBI deputy superintendent of police AK Bassi, who was part of the investigation team Verma had constituted to probe corruption charges against Asthana and was transferred during the midnight orders, pressed his application questioning his new posting in Port Blair for a hearing.
“Port Blair is a nice place,” CJI Gogoi responded, and said his case too would be heard on Tuesday. Similarly, Congress Lok Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge’s application to be made a party to the case would be taken up at the next hearing. As a leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, Kharge is a member of the selection panel to choose the CBI chief. The Prime Minister heads the committee.