NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgment with wide ranging ramifications for the Centre and the CBI, the Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated the probe agency’s director Alok Verma but restrained him from taking major policy decisions till a high-powered committee takes a call on the alleged charges of corruption against him that are being probed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
Setting aside the government’s order divesting Verma of his powers as the CBI director and sending him on leave, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said protection to the CBI director under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act was absolute. Under the DSPE Act, there was no provision for interim suspension or removal of the CBI director, the SC pointed out, adding any change can be made only by the selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Verma’s two-year term ends on January 31. While he cannot take any major policy decision for now, there is no bar on him registering any preliminary enquiry, and carrying forward investigations into ongoing cases, including filing of chargesheets.Congress president Rahul Gandhi is hoping Verma will use this wriggle room to open probe into the Rafale deal. “The CBI chief was ousted at 1 am because he was about to begin a probe into the Rafale deal. He has been reinstated. Let’s see what happens now,” he said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called the verdict balanced, saying the Centre’s decision to send Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana on leave based on the CVC’s report. Verma’s fate lies in the hands of the panel comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the CJI, and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, which has been directed by the SC to decide within a week if the allegations against him need a full probe.
If the committee rules in favour of Verma, he will retire with his honour intact. Else, he can be investigated and, if found guilty, will face serious consequences. The 44-page judgment was authored by the CJI but was pronounced by Justice S K Kaul as Gogoi was on leave on Tuesday.
No fresh initiative
“The role of Alok Kumar Verma as the Director, CBI during the interregnum and in terms of this order will be confined only to the exercise of the ongoing routine functions without any fresh initiative, having no major policy or institutional implications,” the verdict said
Speaking of the CBI director’s independence, the court said, “An in-depth consideration of the matter leaves us with no doubt that the clear legislative intent in bringing the aforesaid provisions to the statute book are for the purpose of ensuring complete insulation of the office of the director, CBI, from all kinds of extraneous influences, as may be, as well as for upholding the integrity and independence of the institution of the CBI as a whole.”
“The long history of evolution has shown that the institution of the CBI has been perceived to be necessarily kept away from all kinds of extraneous influences so that it can perform its role as the premier investigating and prosecuting agency without any fear and favour and in the best public interest,” the SC said.